Christmas has been a special time of the year for as long as I remember. People were nicer. Things slowed down a bit so ordinary folks could enjoy the Christmas Season. We had very little when I was growing up. One year when things were especially tight my mother and I walked six blocks on Christmas Eve to purchase a Christmas tree for the two dollars we could afford. I didn’t mind as long as I could open that magical box which contained all of the ornaments, some pre-dating World War I.
As little as we had, we always shared our bounty with folks a few blocks away who had even less. I well can remember the tears of joy running down the cheeks of one family living in a one-room apartment when we came bearing gifts and food for Christmas dinner. These people had traveled to Wisconsin from Alabama to work in the Case Company Plant a few blocks from my home. Tanks were made there during World War II. The War was over. The father of the household, which consisted (if I recall the incident correctly after 59 years) of parents, a grandmother and six children, had been laid off and could not find work.
There was no Christmas tree in this tiny apartment. The children slept on the floor near an oil stove because Wisconsin winters were colder then. Their grandmother slept in a big old overstuffed chair. The parents had a bed. It was shoved off in a corner of this “living room.” There were no wrapped presents. There was so little it made us mighty thankful for what we did have, which by the standards of that era, wasn’t much. The family did have God and each other. They sang a spiritual for us in thanksgiving for our remembering them. We didn’t know them at all. We never had met. Somehow we found out about their plight and we were not about to let Christmas pass without sharing our blessings.
Christmas was like that. Yes, it was commercialized. Yes, Santa Claus was front and center, being a distorted copy of St. Nicholas, who was Archbishop of Myra in Licia during the 4th Century. St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, secretly would deliver food, clothing and gold to the poor and presents to poor children who had been good during the year.
The Church celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6. That blended in nicely with Christmas. I never did find out what happened to that poor family from Alabama, one of several whom we visited in the years following World War II. If any family members are alive I doubt they would remember that nocturnal visit.