During the Depression, my great aunt, Tura, taught at a country school in Eudora. Poverty was a way of life in rural Mississippi, and with the Depression lingering for many years, her students never experienced Christmas morning with a mountain of presents under a festive tree. In a time of bread lines to feed those who were hungry, even a traditional holiday meal was rare.
Needless to say, Santa Claus was an image never conjured in the mind of Aunt Tura’s students, and she hoped to change that during the annual Christmas pageant at the school.
With Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and three wise men, the pageant illustrated the first Christmas, complete with singing spiritual carols. Aunt Tura planned to surprise the children after the play with a special appearance from Santa Claus, and boy, did she.
As the audience applauded the young actors for their performance, Santa Claus burst into the school house and shouted, “Ho, ho, ho.”
With his red felt suit and curly white beard, Santa lumbered through the door with his bag full of goodies. The kids responded with terror – utter and complete fear of the white-haired stranger.
With the fight or flight instinct in place, the kids launched themselves out the windows and scrambled toward the door. According to my grandfather, the kids looked like pirates bailing out of a sinking ship, as all of Bethlehem flew out of the building – running through neighboring cotton fields to safety.
I can’t imagine never knowing Santa Claus. I considered us pretty tight when I was younger as I delivered organized lists of Christmas gift possibilities to him near the merry-go-round in the center of the Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis. You have to ask, right?
At approximately 4 a.m. on Christmas morning, my sisters and I would wake and perch ourselves on the top step of the stairs – forbidden from going down until a “reasonable” hour. That was usually 6 a.m. when my parents wobbled down the hallway with bed hair and red eyes from “waiting up to greet Santa” the night before.
Once we were given the okay, we were a tangle of footy pajamas, sliding across the hardwood floor toward the mountain of toys awaiting us in the other room.
My five-year-old Dean is not a morning person. We have to wake him up on Christmas morning, and we are usually greeted by his foul humor or hissy fit or attempts to sneak back to bed. It takes him a few minutes to realize Santa has left presents for him under the tree, and the excitement dawns.
Santa has always been generous with Dean, even if reports from Elfis, our Elf on the Shelf, weren’t glowing. This year, Dean has been found reasoning with Elfis – a one-sided negotiation with the hopes that Elfis will not report any bad behavior to Santa.
If he wasn’t penalized in the past for acting like a brat, I doubt he will be this year. Over the years Dean’s gotten action figures and DVDs and boxes of new crayons and toys to ride on and toys to throw, toys to climb and toys to snuggle with.
This year, he really asked for just one thing – a game where a toy dog shakes water all over you. That’s all. Just a little something to make a mess with.
Of course, he will get more than just one toy! My sisters will have a pile of stuff for him to open on Christmas morning.
My Daddy always said the magic of Christmas is most enjoyed through the eyes of a child. One of my fondest memories will always be watching Dean ride his new red, battery-operated four-wheeler around my parents’ front yard in his pajamas. The image in my head is accompanied by a soundbite of Daddy’s laughter – a memory I will forever treasure.
So put out your cookies and milk and sprinkle reindeer food on the lawn in preparation for St. Nick. The kids might not have been little angels, but seeing the joy of Christmas on their sweet little faces is worth a little leniency.