Many of us have been engaged in the task of pulling out boxes and red and green storage bins full of Christmas gear. From attics, and basements, and closets they come, ready to transform our living space from everyday routine to once-a-year-magic. And alongside the setting up and dressing up, there is a memory tied to each one, each ornament, each holiday village house, each handmade item made with care by a great aunt or grandmom.The memories unravel like a string of lights, especially the ones we have from our childhood. Along with remembering the thrill of being given that extra-special gift you were hoping for may also be gratefulness for those in your family and neighborhood who unselfishly gave young people the gift of joy.
On the 400 block of West Second Avenue, Parkesburg, where I grew up, lived an elderly neighbor we called "Miss Grace". She lived a few houses down the hill from mine, where her porch, blocked by a large far-reaching awning, did not receive the sun's rays. The paint on her porch was also never found to be cracking and peeling from energetic feet wearing out the surface. There were no toys or playthings, pieces of inviting furniture, or bright flowering plants. When she wanted to sit on the porch, a straight-backed chair was brought out, sat in, and taken back inside again. From this lookout point, she watched the youth, families, and other neighbors coming and going through the seasons. Not one to mingle or be outgoing, her reserved nature was sometimes taken for unfriendliness.
Then one year, on the day before Christmas, those of us who were kids, and likely most of the grown-ups too, realized we had been mistaken. Each child on the block received a gift-wrapped present from her, with the effort having been made to give something each age and gender would enjoy. I was given a doll that I still have to this day, with a serious face, and sturdy limbs. She became a close friend for several years, and a reminder of the retired teacher, Mrs. Grace Davis, from Parkesburg School, who used kindness to connect with the generation of children in her midst.
Recently, I saw a movie about another individual who also reached out to children at Christmas. It was called The Man who Saved Christmas, and starred Jason Alexander, from TV's "Seinfeld", as toy manufacturer A.C. Gilbert, who is best known for creation of the Erector Set, in 1913. A fervent believer in high-quality toys that encouraged creativity and inventive thinking, Gilbert went on to produce toy trains and chemistry sets, which were enjoyed for decades by countless thousands of American children.
In the film, Gilbert is pressured by the government to stop producing toys to enrich young lives, and instead use his factory to produce military weapons and ammunition for use in WWII. Likewise, parents are encouraged to support the war effort through buying war bonds, rather than toys, and children quickly lose their enthusiasm for Christmas. Ultimately, Gilbert comes to realize the harm that has taken place in the hearts of children, and takes steps to bring back the special wonder, joy and innocence that had been lost.
Christmas is about children because it was brought to us by the Christ child, who was born into a world that was not prepared to welcome him with even a place to lay his head. Let us honor his birth in our words and actions by setting aside a place in our hearts to welcome children. Even after years pass, they will remember your kindness; a memory of love shown is a priceless gift that will never lose its value.