Column, Looking Back

Spreading Christmas cheer

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Christmas will be celebrated differently for many of us this year thanks to the pandemic.

While large gatherings are a “no-no” the spirit of Christmas and its true meaning will remain the same.

I noticed Christmas lights went up in our neighborhood in early November. Some people even turned them on right after putting them up. I have to say it brightened up the dark days that are so prevalent this time of year.

In today’s world small clear lights are the most popular for inside and outside. Their weight is as light as a feather. Back in the 50s the light bulbs were large and the cords were heavy, often made from cloth with a wooden bead at the base of each light socket. The bulbs got quite hot and could be a real hazard on a Christmas tree that was dry.

I took a look at some Christmas cards from the 50s. The pictures on the front fit into the category of “vintage” for sure. Yet the verses inside could be used in cards of today. I remember we used to get mail twice a day the week before Christmas. Apparently, there were so many cards at that time of year that one visit by the mail carrier couldn’t handle the volume.

There were no “e-cards” back then. Often a handwritten note was inside the cards to update us on the lives of the senders. Today if you actually receive a “snail mail card” with a “life update” it is most likely printed from the person’s computer. All recipients receive the same piece of paper without a personal handwritten note…unless the card comes from me. All my notes are hand-written and pertain to the recipient but I guess that is what one expects from a freelance writer!

When I was a child in the 50s I remember “making the rounds” every year visiting relatives of my parents who were elderly and basically shut-ins. I especially recall going to an apartment of some cousins on Church Street where two elderly sisters and their brother lived. My father seemed to understand that they needed someone to bring the spirit of Christmas to them. He bought a small tree, a stand and a string of lights. Extra ornaments from home gave us everything we needed and off we went to their apartment. He set up their tree on top of a table. I can still remember their look of sheer delight when the small balsam was put in its container and the trimming began. Thanks to a little tree, bright with lights, their apartment had some Christmas spirit and so did they!

As I age I realize that the time comes when certain things are no longer “easy” for people. They forego what they used to do because it simply becomes too much for them. Apparently my father saw that happening with his relatives and did for them what they could no longer do for themselves.

My mother also had some elderly relatives whom she always remembered at the holidays. I got to go along with her as small gifts were delivered. They were usually something as simple as homemade Christmas cookies or candy. We were always greeted with open arms and were invited in for a visit.

Being a kid I probably would have preferred to be somewhere else rather then visiting elderly people. But once I saw how glad they were to see us it didn’t seem so bad. Apparently, what I experienced back then stayed in my head long enough for the “adult me” to realize that my parents brought me along to experience the joy of giving.

Perhaps the day will come when people show up at my door with “holiday goodies.” Then I will know that I have crossed to the other side of that experience. But it probably won’t happen for awhile as I am still mowing our lawn, spreading a huge pile of mulch each spring and shoveling our driveway. That should qualify me to remain on the giving end and not the receiving.

On the other hand, maybe I should slow down and let the cookies and candy roll in!

It’s been a difficult year for many. Spread a little kindness and cheer during the holiday season…even if it’s at a 6-foot distance wearing a mask. Bring your children or grandchildren along as you do it. It will be a memory that stays with them for life.

Wishing you an early Merry Christmas and let’s hope that 2021 is a better year for all of us!

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