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By Staff | Dec 20, 2013

When I was a kid, certain things had to happen before it could be Christmas.

These things did not include a sit on Santa’s lap. You must bear in mind that this was before the advent of shopping mall Santas. Yes, I am that old: I was born in an epoch before shopping malls had arisen from the primordial goop of municipal zoning ordinances.

I’m not saying that kids nowadays are spoiled, but it appears that visiting Santa at the mall is akin to placing an order at a fast food restaurant. It seems to me that the kiddies are pretty much assured that they will get pretty much everything they want.

While I couldn’t visit Santa in person, I was encouraged to write him a letter detailing what I hoped to get for Christmas. The astute kid soon detected a pattern.

Santa’s wish fulfillment percentages were much higher if your list included such things as socks and underwear. Ask Santa for a bike or a flamethrower and you would likely be disappointed.

One important event that had to happen before Christmas could come was participating in the Sunday School Christmas program at our church. This was not among my favorite activities because it involved two things I disliked: singing and getting dressed up.

For several weeks prior to the Christmas program, the time normally allocated to Sunday School classes would be used for rehearsing Christmas songs.

Each class of kids would clomp up to the front of the church and stand in ragged rows. The choir director would strive mightily to get us to sing; her tone was similar to that of a drill sergeant.

“Sing,” she would exclaim, vehemently waving her arm in a directorial manner. “Open your mouths. Boys, I am talking to you.”

So I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. I had heard myself sing and had come to the conclusion that people would pay me to stop. I figured that I was doing everyone a favor.

On the night of the program, we would scurry to milk the cows and get through chores. All eight of us kids would then have to take baths – even though it hadn’t yet been a week since our last one. After donning our Sunday finery, we all piled into our ’59 Ford station wagon.

The station wagon supposedly had a heater, but a lightning bug could have produced more BTUs.

We would arrive, shivering, at the church in the nick of time and take our places in the pews. The church was packed to the rafters, which should have made me nervous. But I knew that I wouldn’t be singing and therefore had nothing to worry about.

After the program was over, we went back to our classrooms and were each given a box of Cracker Jack and a Hershey bar. We were told that this was our reward for having sung so well.

I felt a small twinge of guilt about having lip-synced my way through the program, but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy my Hershey bar.

By the time we got back home we were buzzed from the sweets and the excitement. Our first presents of the Yule season – the Cracker Jack toy surprises – had been found and admired and swapped.

Christmas morning arrived amidst a blur of activity. Chores and milking were speedily attended to while Mom began whipping up our noontime Christmas feast.

There’s nothing like coming in from the deep cold to a steaming kitchen filled with the aromas of roasting ham and turkey.

Pots filled wondrous delectables chuckled to themselves on the stovetop.

When everything was finally ready, Dad would say to Mom, “Better make up a plate for George.” She would heap a dinner plate with turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and all manner of good things and cover it with foil.

Dad and I would then get into the pickup and drive the three miles to George’s place.

George was a self-taught mechanic who was all but a hermit. His farmstead was a jumbled junkyard of moldering automobiles and derelict tractors.

So there was much to admire about George’s lifestyle. But he was also a bachelor, which meant that he didn’t have anyone to share Christmas with him.

George came to his door wearing his usual garb, namely, striped bib overalls that were so grimy they could have stood up by themselves. Dad would chat with George for a bit, then hand him the plate of goodies and wish him Merry Christmas.

And after we climbed back into the pickup and headed for home, Dad would declare, “There. Now it’s Christmas.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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