This Christmas season seems to have been filled with what we are calling “traditions,” but I can recall when those particular events were not a part of the celebration.
I thought about that on Saturday when Santa was the main attraction at the monthly Main Street Sessions program at Dean’s Store.
As I remember, the Sessions began in 2007 as programs featuring local authors and evolved over months and years to include artists, cooking demonstrations, glass blowing, storytelling … a cross-section of presenters reflecting our culture.
But every December Session featured Santa Claus. And, beginning with the first one, each one opened with the mayor, Donnie Henriques, reading a Christmas story to the children as they awaited Santa’s arrival.
Usually the mayor’s story is Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” and one year the mayor’s wife (who is a native of New Orleans) read the “Cajun Night Before Christmas,” a funny version of the classic poem in which alligators are substituted for reindeer, and where the Cajun dialect elicits strange and foreign images to this age-old tale.
This year Mayor Donnie read “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a story that has become a favorite with kids and adults, leaving Santa to sprinkle verses from the original “Night Before Christmas” poem throughout his remarks as he settled into his favorite chair beside the tree to work his magic.
It’s a delight to watch and listen as this tradition continues in the special setting of Dean’s Store, “where yesterday lives and tomorrow waits.”
The tree is manufactured, but a Coca-Cola Santa smiles at passers-by from the front window. Tiny stockings hang from the tree limbs, each one bearing the familiar name of one of the “regulars” at the morning talk-fests, past and present.
Old-fashioned paper fold-out bells hang from the ceiling fan/lights. And a gentle reminder of another important December date in Woodstock is a wreath in the window featuring a bronze plate reading “On This Site in 1897 Nothing Happened.”
A sign beneath the wreath states, “Except Woodstock Became a City.”
Little ones can see Santa most anywhere and everywhere, but nothing tops this unique atmosphere. Three of our little great-granddaughters were first on his lap.
He looked very familiar to them. Mrs. Santa is their paternal grandmother.
More and more families seem to be closing the door on Santa. They want their children to know and understand “the real meaning of Christmas.”
It’s not for me, or anyone, to say they are wrong. Each family can choose how Christmas will be celebrated in the home, if at all.
In my lifetime of 78 years, old traditions have fallen, and new traditions have taken hold. But as you know, The Christmas Story has not changed.
Manmade traditions are just that, manmade traditions. Many of them are, no doubt, inspired, created to enhance The Story, not to change it or belittle it. Others are all in fun, not bad necessarily, but just trivial.
(“Grandma got run over by a reindeer” comes to mind. I recall how much fun we had in the public library system one year with our own version of that ditty, “Grandma got run over by a book cart, going to the Festival of Trees.” It had little to do with the Nativity, but everything to do with the generous spirit of Christmas, the fellowship with co-workers and the expression of love and friendship that defines Christmas celebrations.)
The Cherokee County Historical Society Tour of Homes last weekend was a moveable Christmas feast of sorts, a smorgasbord of decorations, Christmas displayed in ways new and old.
We went from cozy fireplaces to no fireplaces, from misshapen cedar trees fresh from the woods to an aluminum tree, and to the upside-down novelty tree.
We saw endless fresh magnolia leaves and dried hydrangea blossoms, and holly berries and wreaths crafted of fresh lemons, limes and apples.
We marveled at the historic structures, and basked yet again in the knowledge of our good fortune to live in a county whose history is appreciated and preserved in so many ways.
And, yes, we felt the spirit … the sights, the sounds, the “smells” … of Christmas. It was everywhere.
I hope for you and yours that you will feel that spirit in these last few days of the season.
As Henry VanDyke said, “I am thinking of you today, because it is Christmas, and I wish you happiness … In plain words, goodwill to you is what I mean, in the Spirit of Christmas.”
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.