….a Christian observance? a Pagan celebration? a commercial holiday? the most stressful season? We could argue from now ’til New Year’s about who “owns” Christmas and what it’s all about, but that’s not my story for today. My story is a personal experience and it defines what Christmas means to me.
1961 – yeah it was a long time ago. I was 8 that winter and in second grade. I grew up in a farming community. We weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination – some might say we were poor – but it was the life I knew and it felt comfortable to me. Our area was home to lots of migrants in the summer and early fall, mostly Puerto Ricans, who helped with the harvests.
Anyway, this particular year a family of migrants did not leave with the autumn frost. They enrolled their three daughters in school – none of whom spoke English. There was no ESL (English as a Second language) support in those days, but my teacher, Miss Carmella Socci, spoke Spanish. Our classroom became home to those three little girls while they got accustomed to school. The morning messages on the board were bilingual. We all learned a little Spanish. Today is Friday. Hoy es el Viernes… or something like that. The girls rode my bus and we became friends.
As Christmas approached my dad called the family together with a question, “Would you like to help Santa this year?” Of course we would! Dad explained that some families didn’t always have a very good Christmas and he knew of one that we could help out – our Puerto Rican friends from school. Dad asked us to find things that we would be willing to give this family so their Christmas might be as nice as ours. I remember going through my few toys, finding a doll and some other items to give to the girls. We also found clothing, shoes, coats, hats, mittens for the children and their parents. My mom packed in some food.
Christmas Eve was on a Sunday that year and after church we all piled into our station wagon and drove to Floridaville where the migrant family lived. No one was home and we quickly filled their front porch with the boxes packed full of our Christmas offering. My dad attached a note from Santa wishing the family a very Merry Christmas. As we drove away I think we all felt that this was a special Christmas indeed.
On the first day back to school in early January, the bus picked up the girls at their house. As they got on the bus the youngest was carrying my doll – the doll I had added to the Christmas box. She was so excited, showing me her doll that Santa had brought. And I felt so good watching her play with her doll, keeping the secret of our work as Santa’s helpers.
It was a small thing that we did. But it was a big thing for me. Something that has stayed with me, as clearly as if it were yesterday. And it is my best ever Christmas memory.