by Sharon Stevens
My husband and I were readying our college bookstore for the onslaught of students we hoped would come and buy their textbooks for the fall semester. We had vacuumed and dusted the best we could, and made the store as presentable as possible in the outdated building that housed our business. We try our best to make it homey to welcome the generations of families who stream to Canyon to attend our university, WTAMU. There is always tables covered with bright tablecloths ladened with a bounty of homemade cookies and simple snacks and even popcorn donated by the Varsity Theater just down the block.
This year we had an added bonus to catch the student’s eyes.
A dear friend of ours had recently given us a four-foot tall wooden chalkboard in the shape of Santa Claus complete with cutouts of redbirds and green Christmas trees. With the attached piece of chalk you could write holiday menus, shopping list for ingredients, or count down the remaining days of Christmas.
This jolly old Saint Nick had belonged to her parents and been brought out for decoration when they hosted Christmas parties at their home. As her mother had been ill our friend knew they would never again have the opportunity to display him for holiday festivities so she gave him to us knowing that at our business he would have a good home.
As usual my husband was mortified. Why display an object that represents the END of the school term instead of the beginning. I admit I did have some misgivings with bringing him out in August during the hottest year in recorded history, in the middle of a drought where farmers and their families were loosing their crops and their livelihood.
It wasn’t Christmas for heavens sake.
And that’s where Scrooges missed the point. As the kids would come in to our sweltering store to purchase textbooks I pictured some of the them laughing and rolling their eyes, as if we were so ancient and outdated we didn’t know what day or even what season it was. I could also imagine parents writing out checks draining their life savings to pay for the books. This would give them an excuse to cry tears of fun while hiding the tears of pain not only with depleting their bank account, but also at leaving their child behind for the four or five or six years or more that they attended college.
I also put the chalkboard front and center because sometimes the students needed a reminder that even though they were leaving behind family and friends, embarking on a new adventure, they could still find the holiday spirit to swirl around them. And though the experienced students had no doubt that the semester would come to an end, this silly Santa would confirm a break was just around the corner.
To us our Santa fit right in with the environment of mismatched carpet and silly knick-knacks scattered throughout our store. But more importantly I think we provided proof for all the kids that when Christmas Eve came, our community, our town, our university would celebrate.
Not to worry that St. Nicholas would either find his way to their new home in the dorm room, or follow them back to where “visions of sugar plums would dance through their heads”.
More importantly, as we were miserable in the heat that fed wildfires and destroyed homes and life, and even though this year might remain bleak, Father Christmas would be a nudge that there would return a time where we bundled up in layers upon layers of coats and mittens, sweaters and scarves with no doubt that family is all that matters.
But I had more ulterior motives under the tree. Kris Kringle’s rosy red cheeks and cheery smile hidden within his beard was a gentle reminder to me that it was time to write Christmas memories to send to publishers to include in memoirs and stories. With a six-month lead time designating summer “the most wonderful time of the year” that magazines and publishing houses welcomed well-written articles for the upcoming holiday issues.
This fall semester our wooden Santa held court beside the table ladened with homemade cookies and goodies. His smile never wavered, not like the scowl my husband showered me with after each customer left the store. Bah humbug! I wonder what Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick has to say about that on his naughty and nice list.
After textbook rush is over I plan to place St. Nicholas in our front window for passerby’s to enjoy. I will put him on display again when we decorate our store for Christmas as the kids begin to pack up to return home for the holiday break. But I plan to dust him off and set him back up for the rush of the spring semester in January.
I believe he represents the future. A simple reminder that without commercialization the holidays will come again and again and ever again, no matter where we travel or the steps that take us farther away from home.
On second thought I just might even display him amid chocolate sweets for Valentines Day. His never ending smile will be just the thing to warm our hearts as we face the prospect of February blizzards with taxes following close behind.
And I just might bring Him out again for Easter weekend…because I know HIS spirit still lives.