The Advent of Christmas
The day before Christmas a little girl grabbed her coat, ran past the cleared place near the front window that begged for a Christmas tree. In the brisk December wind, specks of snow pelting her face, she headed toward the public school where an unusual flurry of activity played out on a Christmas Eve morning. The last time she’d walked into the building she stood in line for a sweet tasting sugar cube they called the polio vaccine. Word had traveled invisibly on the party line that Santa Claus was handing out something in the cafeteria.
She inched along, her coat hanging open, her feet frozen, her hope high that she’d get a stocking filled with candy and toys. In the warmth of the cafeteria, she passed long tables with bench seats attached and folded like some pre historic bird. “Ho, ho, ho,” resonated through the room. Kids fingered flashes of red and white seams, netting over cellophane topped by a white label with the image of Santa and the words, “Merry Christmas” in cursive. As she approached the man in red whose helpers were the blue-collar variety of elf reaching into big boxes, she readied herself for the prize. The man in red smiled at her and patted her on the head before handing over the stocking filled with candy, walnuts and a blue whistle. She took it with a “Thank you!” from his smudged white gloves.
She followed along to the Eagles building a block away. In the great hall, the walls disappeared behind tables filled so high with Barbie Dolls, tea sets, baseball gloves, basket balls. In the residual warmth of cigar odors and laughter, the merchants in Dayton stood waiting to grant some wish to each and every child who came through the door—no questions asked.
The girl approached Mr. Rifkin, the man who fitted her with Saddle Oxfords in September and Buster Brown sandals in May. She said, “May I have a Barbie doll, please?” Harry Rifkin, whose burgeoning stomach seemed to compete with his bulbous nose, moved with the swiftness usually reserved for a year-end sale, reaching high to grab a pink box with the Midge doll inside. The girl passed under the watchful eye of the eagle statue over the entrance and headed toward her grandparents’ house in hopes of a bubbling pan of hot milk and a canister of Nestle’s quick.
Bubble lights whirred as the little girl returned home in time to place silver tinsel, one piece at a time, on pine branches laden with homemade ornaments. Peering through the fogged up windows, the little girl listened as carolers sang: Glad tidings of comfort and joy… Would she sleep this night or lay awake waiting to hear if the real Santa would land his sleigh on the roof?
For the following 12 days and nights people gathered, wished each other a merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and the like. But come January sixth, bare trees, void of lights, ornaments, and needles, would be drug to the community playground. That night, flames licked the night sky while voices could be heard singing Oh Tannenbaum in the German of their ancestors.