THE JOY OF THE SEASON
By Nita Wilson
It’s early November and the stores are already pushing their Christmas stock. At first we get the little catch in our throats, “Ahh, Christmas is coming.” The same intake of breath at the first mention of Christmas each fall for as long as we can remember. Back when it was the most important time of the year; when the joy of the season drew us in and kept us enthralled and impatient until midway through Christmas afternoon when we could finally say, “Wow, it’s over. Wasn’t it wonderful?”
But instead of remembering great times, we get upset with the stores… “It’s too early, how can they make Christmas into such a money making business? They’re making a mockery of Christmas…” Maybe it’s only we the shoppers make mockery with our disgust at having to spend money yet once again on Christmas presents. Reality sets in and we start to worry about over worked budgets and unpaid bills.
I say remember the intake of breath and the “Ahh Christmas is coming” moment when we first saw that plastic Santa inside the super sized snow globe.
My own memories are so potent that even today I revel in them all through the season. I start shopping and looking for special gifts for my friends and family from the first feeling of fall. I am the storeowner’s joy and forever hope. I fall victim to new and different ornaments and Christmas Decorations that I think the kids in my family would enjoy. I try to find a way to afford any decoration that may make their future Christmas memories as wonderful as the ones I’m reliving.
As a child, my family had no money and Christmas must have hit my parents especially hard; but the dolls chosen from the fall copy of the Sears catalogue were always under the tree Christmas morning, along with the wrapped comic books and coloring books. Small gifts the four kids gave each other after a special day of Christmas shopping.
Around December 22rd, mother and daddy cleaned us up and drove us to Kress’ store in Biloxi about 20 miles away and gave us each $1.00. folding money, bills, paper money, grown folks money, where we were to buy 6 gifts. What utter joy, a whole dollar bill and people to buy for, could you be any happier? I always bought mother’s first; a .25 bottle of Blue Waltz or a nice lacy handkerchief, the finest Japan had to offer. Daddy could always use a nice ruler or shoe polish, Oxblood, was a favorite color of mine. My sister and brothers got the usual comic book, small toy, or some such nonsense. Once our shopping was complete and we purchased gifts for each other and mama and daddy; we marveled at my younger brother annually, having enough money left to buy himself a gift. Next stop was next door to Woolworth’s lunch counter for a coke with cries of “Don’t look in my bag.” Or “Daddy, Edward felt my bag of presents and says he knows what in it.” Then to Sears in Gulfport to see the big man himself, Santa Clause. By the time we got back to Daisy Vestry or Ocean Springs, we were exhausted but couldn’t wait to wrap our wonderful gifts. Suddenly the little house was turned upside down and covered with wonderful Christmas paper, balls of ribbon unwound by the cat, and stray bits of scotch tape stuck to the dog from little hands going too fast. Mother always had music in the house so Bing Crosby and Gene Autry’s Christmas Carols would be blaring from the phonograph and if we were lucky, she wouldn’t be too tired to play the piano while we all sang the Christmas carols later on that night. A perfect ending to a perfect day; the six of us gathered around the piano with the Manger scene lovingly displayed on top. All of our freshly wrapped gifts arranged jauntily under the Christmas tree meant the big day was truly close at hand.
Dark, coming into the room from the cold outdoors would have to find its way around the wonderful Nativity scene complete with star mother painted on the front windows each year; a special joy for her and a sense of pride for us; since no other house had anything like it.
The joy of all of this to all of us was not buying the silly comic book we could have bought with our own small allowance, but the choosing and buying of gifts for each other. The wrapping and hiding, the hints given and guesses made were all part of the joy. There was so much anticipation for these small offerings that NO one was ever disappointed on Christmas morning. Even unwrapping the horrid socks and pajamas sent from stray Uncles and Aunts could be tolerated.
A few years ago, I started sharing the shopping memory with Matthew, Dacia, Kristy and Hannah, my great nieces and nephew. On the morning of Dec. 22nd we’d go to the Dollar Tree. They’d each get $5.00. (ahh inflation) and were to buy a gift for each other and their parents. I had no idea how time and the years haven’t changed the reactions of children. The same joy of giving laughingly reared its wonderful head. They took more time deciding on each other’s gift than I had allotted, so we were off by about an hour in our schedule. Too bad about the schedule. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. One by one they began to find me and ask opinions on this toy or that picture frame, would Dacia really like it, did Hannah already have one, was Matthew too old for this or that, is pink or purple Kristy’s favorite color? I was incredulous at all the thought they were putting into this exercise and once again I realized this whole season is about giving, not receiving. After all, wasn’t the greatest gift of all lying in the manger in the Nativity Scene on my piano at home?
Once we were all finished with our shopping, we had to take turns going through the line. One person had to go through and then directly to the car while three others spaced themselves around the store with their basket contents hidden.
On the way home we stopped at today’s equivalent of Woolworth’s, Shady Acres (a country store outside of Hattiesburg we love to visit complete with wooden stairs up to the old wooden porch) and bought bottled soft drinks out of the old iced coke bin and ice cream from the ice cream counter. All the way home, the hints were flying, guesses given and “I can’t wait” became a mantra to all.
Once home, each child picked a room and enough paper, scotch tape and ribbon to wrap their gifts. Then when each room was cluttered with bits of Christmas paper, messed up scotch tape and balls of unraveled ribbon, the gifts were set under the Christmas tree. The hardest part of the whole day was keeping them away from the tree once the gifts were in place. You’d be surprised to learn, kids really do ask what this package can be, when it’s so obviously a comic book rolled into a tube, even the dog knew.
The rest of the evening was spent watching the Christmas Story, opening the gifts, playing with the gifts, laughing over the gifts, and getting great joy over the reactions of the receivers as each gift was opened. One movie was enjoyed after dinner, then baths, then coke floats and then to bed. It was such a wonderful experience for all that we are now going on our fourth year this Christmas. Matthew is going on 15, my heart hurts at the thought that he may be getting too old. But at least I will have the memories of the first three years.
For as long as I can remember I try to give my friends and close family gifts for Christmas. I make sure each of my Grandnieces and nephews has a gift from me. It is a selfish pleasure for me. When I’m buying the gift, I’m so into that child, sibling or friend for that moment in time and so hoping it will please that I can’t think of anything else. Again, the joy of giving is the pleasure; seeing that precious face light up in my mind as I decide on the gift; is a gift itself.
More and more too many people are deciding not to give each other gifts. They’re too hard pressed financially, or they don’t like the thought that Christmas has become about how much loot a person receives, or they don’t like to fight the crowds anymore. Some people haven’t given to their siblings/spouse/friends in years, maybe never. What a shame, what a shame.
Once a year to spend time concentrated only on your beloved sibling/friend/spouse for a few moments in a store of your choice, thinking about what that person would like, what would make their day, what would make them smile, what would bring them closer to you for at least one day, could actually make you glad you spent the money and fought the crowds. I know some of us say, well, I’ll buy for the kids. Well, whoop de do, the kids get so much from all of us these days they don’t even have time to play with it all. Maybe that money spent on your sister, brother, parent, spouse would make a nicer moment in your relationships, especially if there has been ill will lately. In the long run, wouldn’t it be better if the kids were taught to buy each other a gift? Shouldn’t they get some of the selfish joy of giving?
We’ve gotten as hard on Christmas as the storeowners who push the merchandise on us. I say, instead of looking at them like they’re the wolves, let’s look at them as they are giving us inexpensive selections to make for our loved ones. God will deal with whether they are wrong or right let’s just say they’re kind and helpful. Your child will see Christmas as you do. If you see it as a time to save money and not give, then they’ll do the same one day. But, if you were with me for just one hour when the kids are shopping for each other, you’d never wish them anything but that kind of happiness in giving to others. And they are only spending $1.00 on each person.
Yes, I know, I shouldn’t be telling any of you to buy Christmas gifts. I have a few friends and family members who truly do not like to give or receive gifts. I have to understand their feelings even though it takes away some of my joy of giving, but some people are too shy to receive and some are too nervous to give, so rather than make their Christmas unhappy, I’ll respect their wishes.
“Aahh Christmas is coming.” Get the same catch in your throat as you did years ago when you were small children, when it was the most important time of the year, when churches smelled like pine trees and cedar branches, and the man who owned the hardware store walked to the up the isle to the church Nativity Scene looking like no Wiseman you ever saw in his wool bathrobe and wife’s sequined turban. Think of the school house lighted up for the Christmas program rehearsed for days with tin foil haloed angels singing to a 6th grade giggling Santa. Think of your family and reading the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve. Think of rainy winter nights and the lights from the tree distorting the rain drops on the windows for anyone passing to see; when hope was so large in your chest you could hardly breath; when the joy of the season drew you in and kept you enthralled and impatient until midway through Christmas afternoon when you could finally say, “Wow, it’s over, wasn’t it wonderful?” Next year, I’m going to …