I’ve always enjoyed the Christmas holidays, whether as a child receiving Christmas presents or as an adult giving them. There are three Christmases I will never forget, because of what the Christmas season is really all about and the symbolism surrounding it: 1973, when I was 5 years old and living in New Mexico; 1978, when I first learned what Christmas is all about; and 1982, when I finally acknowledged what I had learned.
I know I was supposed to talk about the Fall of ’78 and when I first attended Jodie McClure, and I will get to that in a future post. But since it’s the Christmas season, and since this is my 50th Christmas (even though I’m still 49) I felt it would be appropriate to write about the 1978 Christmas, which was memorable for a lot of reasons. First, it was our first Christmas living on Margo Street, and the first we would be able to spend it with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in over two years- some we hadn’t seen in longer than that. Second, this was also the first time in years we had been able to put up some Christmas lights- something I enjoy doing to this day. I will never forget how pretty it was when we lived in New Mexico- there was snow on the ground, snow in the mountains, and Christmas lights were lit all over the mountains (there was a town up in the mountains and at night, with all the lights lit, it was a sight to behold). My parents took us to one of those Christmas tree villages (like the one seen on A Charlie Brown Christmas), and I will never forget how beautiful that was. The decorated trees, the spotlights flashing, the snow-covered atmosphere, and the decorated snowmen, I haven’t seen anything like that before or since. That’s why the 1973 Christmas is so memorable, because of its beauty.
Anyway, back to 1978, when Daddy put up the tree and some Christmas lights, those were the first lights put up since we lived in New Mexico, and my sister and I were excited to see them. However, what made that year’s Christmas so memorable wasn’t anything that happened at home, but it was something that happened at school, Jodie McClure to be precise. Back in the day, elementary schools used to have Christmas programs, and all grades would usually participate. I remember being in the programs when we lived in Abilene and I attended Dyess Elementary, and I can remember one back in the 2nd grade, but as far as kindergarten and 1st grade go, my mind draws a blank.
For our 5th grade Christmas program, we were going to re-enact what Christmas is all about: the birth of Jesus. I can remember our music teacher telling us this, and then she passed out the parts. The part I received was the part of Joseph. My friends Roy Craine, Marion Burton, and Robert Taylor nearly killed themselves with laughter. They was like, “He’s playing Joseph! He’s going to be married and have a wife and a baby! Ha ha ha!” I was like, Who the heck is Joseph? Before you all laugh at my ignorance, I’m embarrassed to admit that at the time, I really had no idea who Joseph or even Mary was. I had a vague idea of who Jesus was, but it was very vague. We had attended church when we lived in Longview earlier, and I had even gone to Sunday School, but they had basically taught us the same thing over and over and over again, which was John 3:16 and Luke 10:27. Nothing more, nothing less. So, by participating in this program, I learned about the birth of Jesus. I would say that I had fun doing so, but that would be a lie. It was very stressful. I learned I was to walk Mary across the stage, push a big wooden donkey, and carry a gigantic stick (called a staff). There were four sticks in all, because the three shepherds had to have sticks, too, and three sticks were of average size, while the 4th stick seemed to be as tall as the Statue of Liberty and just as heavy. We would race every day to grab the sticks and keep from having to hold that gigantic stick, and just about everyday I was the first to grab a medium-size stick while one of the shepherds had to suffer. I reminded myself to be sure I did that on the day of the play, because it was enough I had to play the part of Jesus’ earthly father and be laughed at every day for my probably pained facial expressions.
Another interesting aspect to this tale was that the girl playing Mary was white. (And the baby doll was white, too.) I don’t know what the atmosphere was like as far as there being a black Joseph with a white Mary; God knows I wasn’t thinking about that- I just wanted to get the whole thing over with- but I wonder whether or not there were some parents (and even teachers) who were unhappy about that back then. Again, that thought never crossed my mind then, and I’m sure that most of the teachers didn’t care one way or another. I know my music teacher didn’t care because she said no one could change their parts. Ok, then.
On the day of the play, my momma decided in all of her infinite wisdom that I would wear a suit, tie, and slacks to school. It was cold that day, but I would have to wear a robe over all of that, and naturally, I would almost burn up with all of that stuff on. I was already nervous, and this was not helping. What also didn’t help that due to my worrying about wearing hot clothes and hoping I didn’t catch on fire on stage, I completely forgot about the sticks, and by the time I went to get one, the only one left was the telephone pole. If I could’ve cussed back then, I would have. Now I had to walk across the stage with a white wife and a baby Jesus, push a big donkey, and carry a big stick, all the while hotter than the sun itself. Somehow, we made it across the stage, then I had to stand there stock-still holding the stick.
I looked and saw more people than I’d thought I see, and I almost passed out. But then I looked again, and I saw Momma and Daddy- and I was shocked, because I thought he had gone to work. But he had taken off from work to see our Christmas program- and although I was sweating like a horse, I actually felt a little better after seeing him there, and I basically just watched him the entire time. When the program was over, I almost didn’t want it to end, and I finally understood what Christmas is all about. That was the second-best Christmas program I was ever in (the best came at church in ’82), and after the music teacher thanked everyone for coming, we all ran to our parents and got hugs. Daddy told me I did really good, and Momma was proud of me, too, and then I asked them if I could go home and get out of that hot suit. They said, yes, and they must have thought I was going to wait on them to take me home, but I didn’t. I got the house keys some kind of way, and then I ran home and changed clothes and then ran back to the school. Yes, although I had not mentioned it, it had been a late morning program.
Later, in 1982, a week before Christmas, I participated in my church’s Christmas program, where I played the part of the innkeeper who had no room for Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. It was the best Christmas program I had ever participated in. Then, the day after Christmas, December 26, 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior and was baptized roughly two weeks later. That was the greatest gift I had ever received on Christmas, but it all started with the gaining of a little knowledge in 1978- for had I not played the part of Joseph in the school play, I might would still be wondering who the heck Joseph is and about the true meaning of Christmas.