A most exciting day

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For children, there is no more exciting day than the day before Christmas.

In my days as a child, it was a day of great anticipation. What would Santa Claus bring me?

I never considered that I would be on the list for switches or coal in my stocking, although that possibility was greater than I would have liked to admit.

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If there were chores to do around the house, those would be finished by noon on that day before Christmas. Daddy had plenty to do all the time, but Christmas Eve afternoon was no time to be working. Town was too exciting on that day.

Pelham might not have been New York City or even Albany, Ga., but Santa Claus was there passing out candy and taking the time to charm every child. The only Macy’s we knew was The Hand Trading Company and malls were at least a decade and hundreds of miles away.

Those facts didn’t keep us from being excited about Christmas Eve. There was only one question on our minds. When would Santa Claus get to South Georgia?

When I was a young child my mother worked at the Consolidated Drug Store in Pelham. It was an old-fashioned type store, not like the pharmacies that we have today.

There was a soda fountain in one corner and the place was a beehive of activity, particularly during the Christmas season. Men would come in at the last minute with their children and they were frantic to get Momma a pretty gift. The drug store had a nice gift section and they would wrap for free.

There were real people in the store who would actually try to help. Imagine that. I guess there were some men who might have a clue as to what to get momma, but mostly they would rely on the nice people like my Momma offering suggestions. I’m sure she saved the day for many a husband and child.

It might have been a popular fragrance or a shiny brooch. If nothing could be found in the drug store, there was always the Ladies Shoppe, where house slippers could be bought and wrapped. I guess quite a few women have earned an Academy Award nomination for their appreciative acting on Christmas Day as they opened that last minute gift bought by Daddy and child.

Daddy wasn’t so hard to accommodate. Just find the Old Spice.

Last minute shopping was what town was all about on Christmas Eve. Walking on the streets from store to store amidst all the other people who were simply in town because it was Christmas Eve was a joy in itself. Sure, there was hustle and bustle, but there was also time to speak to all those seen during the year. Don’t forget Santa Claus. He was so jolly.

Being outside in the cold air was special. Although I can’t speak for every year, there seemed to be a chill in the air most Christmases. Nowadays, I suppose malls are very comfortable with their controlled temperature and complete shopping opportunities, but there was something about being outside in the cold air that made the day before Christmas back then different from today.

Momma would have worked until 9 p.m., but we would not have gone home before taking a ride through the town’s neighborhoods to see the Christmas decorations. There were two places that were absolutely “must sees.” One of those was a house that had Santa, his sleigh, and his reindeer all lit on the roof. The other was a little lane outside of town that we called Santa Claus Lane.

Both decorations would be tame by some of today’s glittering displays and yards, but in those days, we could not leave town without seeing them. After all, we lived in the country and the houses were few and far between so if we wanted to see Christmas decorations, we had to go to town.

Once home on Christmas Eve, there was the obligation to set a few cookies and milk out for Santa. They were always eaten.

After the Santa snack was arranged, the chore for Momma and Daddy of getting us to go to bed would come. The bed part might not have been so difficult, but going to sleep was another thing. We would lie awake talking and wondering what Santa would bring.

As I replay this Christmas Eve of mine, I realize the innocence of those years. Are children still so full of excitement and anticipation these days? I know that the world has turned many times since I was a child, but has the magic of Christmas disappeared?

Just the other day, I saw some children absolutely wired-up and out of control (a good thing, at least for this season) with excitement over Santa Claus. At another place a 9-year-old was alive with anticipation as she told me of Santa’s telephone call to her and her sister. When I told her that he had not called me, she simply told me that he didn’t know my number.

Our grandson, Cam, I’m told by his mother, cannot keep his hands off the Christmas tree. He’s two and a half years young and every morning points at the tree with a joy that only that age can have.

In that most popular editorial over a hundred years ago in the New York Sun about the existence of Santa Claus, Francis P. Church told a little 8-year-old girl named Virginia that there definitely was a Santa Claus. He said that he would always exist to “make glad the heart of childhood.”

Santa was there for me and tonight he returns to make glad all those whose hearts could use a little gladdening. I pray that your heart will be made more joyous as Christmas descends upon us tomorrow.