December 18 (give or take a day) is, in my mind anyway, the “no-turning-back” spot leading to Christmas. By now, we’ve watched all the Christmas programs on TV, some more than once, attended several Christmas concerts and/or plays, baked and decorated cookies galore and sent cards to the elderly aunts. It’s time to take a breath and reconnoiter the terrain.
The season started a little early this year, it seems. The jack-o-lanterns weren’t even off the porches yet before the elves were hitching up the reindeer. Decorated, lighted trees popped up everywhere even before the witches and ghosts were safely away for another year. The pilgrims and turkeys managed only a brief appearance between the Grinch and angels on high. This was probably due in part to the unseasonal weather at the beginning of November that carried over into the entire month. By the fourth Thursday we were ready to offer Thanksgiving, but also to look forward to the more joyful days of celebration that the Christmas holidays traditionally bring. Even the December “break-up” early in the month didn’t dim the expectations of the season.
I don’t remember getting out of school as early as the students these days. We’d go until December 23 some years, and return no later than January 3. If Christmas came mid-week we’d get the two weeks off because it was easier to schedule, but otherwise school was in session. That doesn’t mean we learned much in those last few days before the break because the month of December had been devoted to Christmas. By the 18th the classroom was electric with the anticipation of coming things. We had decorated the classroom Christmas tree (a real tree, by the way) with red and green construction paper chains and snowflakes cut from tissue paper in art. We made Christmas cards for the parents adorned with glitter and cotton snow. We learned a new song for our part in the Christmas program. The remaining days were devoted to concerts and programs and the class party. We drew names a couple of weeks before and brought a gift to school for that person. It was supposed to be a big secret, but by the day of the party, everyone knew who had their name. We gave and received things like coloring books, a new box of crayons, paper dolls, maybe a simple toy or puzzle. Being a kid was a lot easier then.
And we didn’t forget the teacher. I’m sure some parents were clever and sent new gloves or a hand knitted hat, but the dime store sold bottles and bottles of lilac cologne and bars of scented soap. If I was lucky, my aunt was home (she was unmarried sometimes during my early childhood and came home to heal before striking off again to earn her fortune — but that’s another story). She made the most heavenly divinity and my cousin and I would coax her into making enough to gift our teachers. Between that and my dad’s fudge, which I told you about before, we were able to make points with the teachers until junior high when Auntie insisted we learn to make the candy ourselves (yet another story).
When I was in the primary grades we were also encouraged to bring an item or two to fill a shoe box for a Displaced Person (DP). The entire school brought things like socks, pencils, crayons, handkerchiefs, a bar of soap, maybe a candy bar, to put into a shoe box to be sent to the refugee camps in Europe. We had lived with the specter of WWII every day of our lives. When victory was declared just before we started in first grade we had to transition from soldier to Santa (and we did it without TV to show us the way). The shoe boxes were a school project for a few years because many children were among the millions uprooted from their homes in Eastern Europe and we were encouraged to donate something that they could use in school. I remember those DP boxes with a child’s perspective; I’m assuming (20/20 hindsight) that churches and relief agencies took care of the real needs. The more things change the more they stay the same.
That last day each of us also brought party stuff: cookies, candy, popcorn balls, punch; I don’t remember ever seeing carrot sticks or cheese straws at a classroom Christmas party. We sang a few carols, maybe played a game or two; the teacher read “The Night Before Christmas,” and the principal stopped in to share the goodies, then it was onto the bus … maybe an hour early … and home to continue the greatest celebration in our short lives.
Now, the angel trees around town have shed their stars, the carolers are making their rounds, and unless you already have the tickets, you’re not going Outside for the holidays. Time to check off the gift shopping list, make the grocery list, and re-examine the guest list. You can’t miss it … Christmas will be here in a week! Enjoy it!
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.