My father was the third child of more than a dozen children. His entire Waltonesque clan struggled its way through the Great Depression, when Christmas gifts of one ball, one tin cup, and one orange per child were welcomed and treasured.
I came to understand what even the most difficult December holidays must have meant to him when years ago he described a Christmas Eve in the 1940s. As a twenty-something, he arrived home late to find his mother in need of help: from her hiding place he fetched the presents for his younger siblings and arranged them under the tree. With a sad shake of his head, he declared that Christmas never seemed the same again after that night.
For quite some time now, I have shared my father’s sense of lost Christmas magic, albeit for different reasons. Gnawing doubts about how we on this earth treat each other and how we prioritize our responsibilities often cloud my joy.
I am annually annoyed by the earlier-and-earlier appearance of Christmas items. I have grown weary, too, of the increasing emphasis on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and shopping hours that prevent store employees from spending time with their own families.
Not wishing to veer off into the Bah Humbug ditch, instead I take solace in the fact that lots of us look for ways to be generous at this time of year. School kids, church groups, and individuals alike collect food to be shared with those facing tough times.
Providing warm clothing is also important. One of my sisters just sent a pile of hand-knitted ear warmers to add to my bunch of handmade stocking caps. Another sister added mittens and gloves before taking the whole kit-n-caboodle to CT Comm for eventual donation to the Caring Kitchen.
Groups and individuals organize any number of toy drives and kid shopping trips as do members of the military and law enforcement – locally and across the country. And then there is the Teddy Bear Toss I read about recently. This now-popular tradition began in 1993 at a Canadian ice hockey game. After the home team scored its first goal, spectators proceeded to throw onto the ice hundreds of stuffed animals to be donated. The custom has spread throughout the hockey world, with the Hershey Bears in Pennsylvania holding the current record: 34,798 cuddly toys tossed on a single night for kids in need of someone to hug.
Visiting Santa Claus is another tried-and-true Christmas tradition. In Facebook photos I see wee ones occupying St. Nick’s lap and rattling off wish list items – or screaming in abject terror. My niece and her husband took their puppy to meet the jolly, old guy, and Zoe McGuire Faulkner shared a photo of her triplet granddaughters and their little sister visiting Santa – who was seated on a green tractor!
Another remarkable visit occurred last week, according to news reports, when a boy – blind and autistic – arrived to meet Saint Nicholas. When the mother began to explain her son’s special qualities, this wise and loving Santa countered: “Say no more.” He plopped himself down on the floor, allowing the youngster to explore his beard, his furry jacket, his reindeer. This display of understanding and generosity must have been the spirit of Christmas a crusty newspaper editor described to Virginia way back in 1897.
Although from my younger years I remember the celebration of Advent only as a church-related activity, I do appreciate the growing attention paid to the four Sundays and/or weeks before Christmas. Advent wreaths with their candles in shades of white, pink, and purple as well as accompanying devotionals are symbolically beautiful. Advent calendars provide suitable perspective as little ones anticipate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while I myself enjoy the online Advent calendar Ingrid sends me each year. Adults and children together might even like the reverse Advent calendar idea: each day add a food item to a box that will then be delivered to the nearest community pantry.
Actually, I think it is the children who can lead us all to experience the true magic of Christmas, especially when it comes to the season’s most traditional symbol: the Nativity scene in any of its many forms. The grandson of my friend Julie Brugger recently identified the Joseph and Mary under his grandmother’s tree as “the man and the mom.”
Former GHS colleague and friend Cindy Jacobs described the photo she posted of her Nativity scene: “The blessed event is being celebrated by PawPaw’s really old rubber animals, Fisher-Price little people and zoo animals, a farmer and a first responder. I guess the toy soldiers are there just in case Herod’s bad men show up to cause trouble. Peace on Earth and Good Will to all!”
I think my father eventually rediscovered a bit of lost Christmas magic when his children and grandchildren came along. I know I particularly enjoyed those years. Fortunately and unfortunately, they all moved away to make grown-up lives for themselves.
I refuse, however, to wallow in humbug muck. My plan is to embrace the charming, innocent perspective of my own greats-and-grands as well as the greats-and-grands of others. After all, is not the real essence of Christmas “the man and the mom” waiting, along with a Fisher-Price farmer, G.I. Joe, and a rubber horse from the distant past, to welcome the Baby Jesus…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.