It has been over fifty years since I last wrote to you. At that time, life was extremely uncomplicated and my thoughts and dreams filled with the innocent anticipation of Christmas day, even though there was no fireplace for your convenient arrival. As I am sure you remember, I am one of five children who lived in a typical American middle class neighborhood. My friends were my neighbors and my neighbors filled my days with childhood play. Remember that igloo we all built as a playhouse and the steep hill in my backyard where everyone gathered to go sledding? What a winter picture that was; flying saucers, card board boxes, shovels and anything else we could conjure up that would hold a heavily padded snowsuit that seemed to have a child inside. Everyone brought their dogs, who usually ran loose in neighborhood packs, so they all got along too! Barking dogs, bursts of laughter and screams of delight that a recently completed slide down the hill yielded the longest run of the day, all contributed to the backyard mayhem. Just about the time my wool mittens would begin freezing up with tiny cubes of ice, my mother would peek out a slightly cracked open back door and yell “Who would like some hot chocolate?” Her bright red Christmas apron, covered in flour, was an indicator that she had spent the afternoon baking her weekly two loaves of bread and everyone pushed and shoved to get to the kitchen first to be the first in line for a bite of her warm, thickly sliced white bread smothered in a melted slick of yellow butter.
For extra money, my mother ran ceramic classes in our basement. At Christmas, the shelves would be lined with plain white singing cherubs, old fashioned carolers, Santa boots, and beautiful Nativity figures and animals. Once painted, they went into a kiln where they were fired and then re-introduced the next week to an appreciative audience of happy mother’s who could not wait to box up their homemade creations and give them to a delighted family on Christmas day. One year my mother painted me a piggy bank and it was by far my favorite gift. My little white pig had happy pink eyes, nose, ears and smile and as I cuddled on my Grandfathers large lap on Christmas day, bank in hand, an endless stream of change from his suit pocket began to fill my pig. Clink, clink, clink….went the pennies, with every beat of my excited little heart. When there were no more coins, my grandfather peered over his Santa-like spectacles and with a twinkle in his light blue eyes, a look reserved just for me at that treasured fleeting moment, he shook my almost full bank and promised to come back and finish filling it another day. I smiled contentedly, for my beloved Grandfather always kept his promise.
Once the gifts had been opened, it was time to focus on the turkey and stuffing smells wafting from the tiny but productive kitchen. Being the eldest daughter, my chore was to stir the gravy, a big responsibility because it was the one side dish that seemed to bring the entire meal together. Pools of gravy covered not only the turkey and stuffing, but the corn, carrots, beans and sweet potatoes, making the food filled plates take on a homogenous look of brown gravy delight. I made sure not to fill my plate too full though because I was privy to the desserts that my mother had been preparing the last couple of days. My Grandmother’s Plum pudding with scrumptious brandy sauce, pecan pie, apple pie, iced sugar cookies, and a cake that looked like Santa would soon grace our large oval dining room table. Once filled to the brim with food, the day would finally come to a close. It was time for my siblings and myself to put on our new matching flannel pajamas and go upstairs to bed. For me, it was time to cuddle my new baby doll and fall fast asleep with sweet dreams of a day filled with happy memories.
Santa, that is why I am writing to you after all these years. My request this year is much more complicated than simply asking you for two front teeth or a baby doll. With the advent of electronics, internet, and cell phones, there is very little quiet time. The daily urgency of a life fraught with instant messaging and planned activities seems to dictate rather than aid. Modern day conveniences have shoved the simple things in life aside, making them seem outdated and unimportant. I worry Santa, that we as a society are setting aside the best life has to offer, the truly important things that are right at the end of our noses, but that we cannot see. A conversation with a friend without interruption from a quick text, an evening spent listening to Christmas music while putting together an elaborate puzzle, an unexpected visit to church to bask in the quiet of God’s love.
Christmas 1956 was the year Bing Crosby sang his popular version of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Even though introduced many years ago, its lyrics are even more poignant today.
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Santa, this year I ask that old familiar carols play, peace prevail and ringing belfries of all Christendom peal their bells more loud and deeply, for God is not dead nor does he sleep. I wish everyone a meaningful, old-fashioned Christmas full of God’s light and goodness. Santa, please dig deep into your sack of unfulfilled wishes and grant me this one special request; future generations of children will be forever grateful.