While preparing for Christmas, and all the whirlwind activities coming up in the next couple of days, I started to think about the Christmases of the past. Not as far back as the first Christmas -- Christmases from my past.
Living in a small town on the prairie, in the 1970s and 80s, had it's advantages. We had sledding hills that only the bravest would dare venture; and in some cases not the brightest bulbs on the tree -- but that's a different story. Everyone in town knew each other and celebrated Christmas as a community.
The main street was lit up from one end to the other - a total of four blocks, but it was the most amazing four blocks. I remember the clothing store window with the dressed up manequins wearing their finest Christmas offerings; the grocery store with displays of holiday delicacies and treats of every kind imaginable, the locker plant had meats and cheeses; the Rexall Drug store with all the perfumes and delicate gifts; but none of these compared with the hardware store - at least not from a kid's point of view.
For all the things we had, we did not have a toy store. The hardware store, this one time of year, morphed into something other than the lawn and garden, or snow removal department. It became Santa's shop so to speak. There were toys of every kind imaginable from sleds to dolls and doll houses.
Santa Saturday was the best. It was the one day out of Christmas vacation we kids looked forward to the most; other than Christmas Day. Santa came into town - mysteriously. We were always told that he was picked up at the small airport, all his stuff loaded into a farmer's truck and driven downtown to where the hoards of kids were waiting. I always wanted to go to the airport to see his sleigh and elves, but we will never know for sure what may have been behind the hanger doors. He handed out bags of peanuts and candy with a healthy orange or apple <-- I suspect to please the parents. There was a free Christmas movie in the City Hall. We had a theater, but there weren't enough seats to fit all the kids. There was a parade and a drawing for a new bike; one for a boy and one for a girl. It was a great day.
Christmas Eve was a different sort of day and night. All the commercialism of the holiday was neatly tucked under the tree and forgotten for a few hours. Family arrived from all parts of the state, and some from other states, congregating at the home of my grandparents. Hugs and smiles were passed around with the egg nog and other holiday treats my aunts and grandmothers had made. Men patting each other on the back with hearty hellos. Women racing to the kitchen to join the others in catching up about kids, work and other 'news' in the family. Us kids, we went outside and had our greetings - snowball fights, snow angels, fort building and sharing secret hopes for gifts we might get.
After all the family was gathered together, the true meaning of Christmas would descend upon the house as we made ready to go to Candlelight Services. We caravanned to the church at the top of the hill and went to celebrate with a different sort of family. His family. On that one night of the year, there was no distinction of who had what or didn't. There was no distinction of who gave more than another or who was what color or of what ethnic origin. We celebrated Christmas, the birth of Christ, as one family.
As a small child, holding the hand of my mother in the dark, I always wondered if it made God as happy as Grandma and Grandpa, to have all the kids home for Christmas.