Another rainy and gloomy day descends upon our hills, while we beat in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The younger generation is anxiously counting the days until Christmastime comes, while the shopping places are full of gifts to buy, and advertising their wares in colorful and glowing terms. In all the advertisements that I have seen, the real reason that we celebrate this day is not mentioned.
There are parties galore, celebrations planned and get-togethers all around. It makes me wonder just what folks are celebrating. Trees are decorated and shining, lights are glowing from rooftops to shrubbery and people are merrier at this time of year. Is it really because a tiny babe, God’s precious gift to the world, was born in a manger long ago? I wonder, when folks have their drinking parties to celebrate, if it even crosses their mind that Jesus is the reason we are celebrating.
This was a frantic month when we were students back in Hagar Grade School. As soon as Thanksgiving was over, our principal, Otis Hinkle, made preparations for a Christmas program. The Methodist church, situated just below the schoolhouse, was the place where we practiced and where we also presented our program. I think now of how generous and kind the people who worshipped there were!
Mr. Hinkle always planned an elaborate program, and everyone in school had to participate. We would present two or three long plays, several one-act plays, plus poems, skits and songs. Mr. Hinkle was an exacting director and we had to have our parts memorized, and also had to put the right “feeling” in our parts. We would troop down to the Methodist church every afternoon preceding Christmas to go through the entire program.
Many days were wet and muddy such as today is, and I’m sure that we tracked in plenty of mud. We never heard a complaint, however, and the people there supported us in our endeavors. Even today, I appreciate the opportunity we had to offer our efforts in this community affair.
We had a tall Christmas tree in the left corner of the church, hung with bright ornaments and tinsel. We had exchanged names earlier, and the gifts we bought for one another hung on the tree, too. Many of our parents brought their gifts for their children also, because we had a fat “Santa” who came in at the end of the program and called out the names on the packages. I’m sure for many children, this was their best time.
There was such excitement the night of the program! People would come for miles to see it, and there was hardly parking room for all the vehicles. Our family lived close the church, and we would walk there to save parking room. I can remember, more than 70 years ago, walking with Mom and Daddy and hearing the snow crunch underfoot. The stars were twinkling overhead, and our excitement rose to a fever pitch, making it hard to think or even breathe.
The church would be so crowded that latecomers would have to stand in the aisles. We would rush behind pulled curtains, pinning on costumes and putting last minute props together. There would be that sinking feeling that we might just forget our parts. Mr. Hinkle was always backstage though, to prompt us if we forgot our lines.
One time just before the program began, Avis June (Hanshaw) lifted up my baby brother, Ronnie, to peek at the audience. He got scared and grabbed the wire holding the curtains with both hands, and it all came down. Mr. Hinkle, red-faced and disgusted, rushed up and exclaimed, “I knew that doggoned nail wouldn’t hold!” We never did tell him that Ronnie pulled it down.
There were many benefits involved in this production that we didn’t think of as children. One was the generosity of the people at the Methodist church in letting us use their church building for weeks to practice, and another was how much we benefitted from the whole program. We acquired some much-needed self-confidence in learning to speak before a crowd, and we learned teamwork in putting a play together. We also learned to memorize, and I can still remember some of the poems that the other kids recited.
Mr. Hinkle could have had another motive in keeping us busy all those weeks this time of year. We didn’t have swings, and slides and playground equipment such as the schools now have. We had a dirt playground, and before the ground froze, it would be a muddy mess. The boys always found a good, sloppy bank to slide in, and sometimes their blue jeans would be so mud-covered you couldn’t tell what color they were. We didn’t have too much to entertain us until sleigh-riding weather came, and our Christmas program kept us occupied until then.
December is still a special month. It is a perfect time for families to get together, to express appreciation and to show love. The things we are doing now are the memories our children will carry with them. It is also what we will be looking back upon, and carrying in our minds. Let’s make them good memories.
Here is a poem that my brother Larry recited in one of our programs. He must have been 7 or 8 years old, and it took the whole family to help him learn it. Perhaps that is why I still remember it after all these years.
“Little girls should speak ‘em, because they think it’s fun
To be upon a platform, stared at by everyone.
Little boys do speak ‘em, but oh! I’m telling you
If they all feel like I do, they’re glad when they are through.”
Then he bowed, started off the stage, and then hurried back and took his place again. He resumed his poem:
“Oh, dear, I was forgetting, what I came up to say,
I’m wishing each one present a happy Christmas day!”
That is what I am wishing for all of you; that your days be happy and blessed, and that each of us will hold the real meaning of baby Jesus’ birth down deep in our hearts. It was because of God’s love for us that we have the most glorious gift that the world has ever known. St. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”