Five Days Till Christmas

December 20, 2008

c 1916 Blanche Fisher Wright, illustrator

c 1916 Blanche Fisher Wright, illustrator

“Christmas is coming,
The geese are getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’ penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’ penny, God bless you.”

These are the words to an old English nursery rhyme (a child’s poem), the source usually attributed to “Mother Goose”. Mother Goose is depicted as a country women, who is the author of traditional English language children’s stories and rhymes. According to one source*, “Mother Goose first appeared as a character in a French poem in 1650, but was not associated with a compilation of published nursery rhymes in English until more than a century later. Since then, both the character and the series have achieved an iconic status in children’s literature.”

There is a melody that can go with this particular rhyme, and I’ve heard it recited, sometimes sung, since grammar school. The illustration here is from a book called The Real Mother Goose, published in 1916. It shows the well-dressed young boy with his own needs filled (traditional evergreen wreath to decorate the hearth and goose in basket ready for the oven) reaching into his pocket to give his penny or ha’ penny (literally, half-penny) to the blind, old man, who is obviously in need, begging with his hat held out for charitable donations. The sentiments of the rhyme and illustration tell what the most basic aspect of Christmas spirit is supposed to be about–generosity, feasting, and celebration. It may be easy to forget that with the frenzy of holiday consumerism.

In the tradition of generosity (which should part of our lives every single day, anyway), there are often particularly seasonal ways of giving this time of year. For example, at Lawrence Group, where I work, we “adopt” a needy family through a local charity each year and the employees donate new toys, clothes, household goods, and food, plus some cash, for their Christmas gift. My husband’s employer, Mid-East Area Agency on Aging, also does this, but with a special twist, with more personal meaning to me. 

Over the years my husband and I have done special fund-raising at Christmas time for the agency to raise money to fund a meals program for the elderly. These are senior citizens, who are sadly in dire financial situations, with literally no other family or source of a nutritious meal. On Christmas, the usual delivery from “Meals on Wheels” is suspended so their own volunteers, who do this every other day of the year, can spend the holiday with their own families. The agency steps in with hundreds of volunteers of its own, including a local hospital kitchen and staff, who join together to take on the meal preparation and delivery on Christmas Day. Often the volunteers also have a potted poinsettia donated by a local florist to deliver with each meal, as well as hand-made Christmas cards from local school children. Whole families get involved in this activity, and for many it’s part of their annual tradition. This is a huge operation–it covers four counties in the greater St. Louis area. I’ve done it with my niece. My step-father got special recognition one year for standing at the hospital entrance for hours in the cold wind, with snow up to his knees, directing the volunteers (in their cars) to the hospital kitchen entrance.

As part of the fund-raising for this operation, John and I have “built” a pretty impressive Santa suit over 22 years, adding a new and better piece each Christmas to make the costume more enchanting (and believable) to the children we visit to raise money to help pay for the Christmas meals food. Several local families with “deep pockets” have hired us each year for 22 years to pay a visit to their family party on Christmas Eve. They are so generous knowing that the money, all of it, goes to this great cause. We have watched babes in arms grow and have their own children over this time. I have been the designated “Santa dresser” and “Santa driver”. I sit in the car, alone, waiting for Santa to complete one visit and then drive him to the next. It’s a worthy cause, and I love to hear about the reaction of the children, but I’m ready to retire from my duties.

As much fun as it is, it’s also a LOT of pressure. One year St. Louis had a huge snow storm on Christmas Eve day, and we had to lease a four-wheel drive vehicle from our own, personal funds to get safely and surely around to all the parties. Another year, just as Santa and I were leaving our house to start our rounds, the elastic in his red pants gave out, and Santa’s “drawers” dropped to his ankles. Glad that didn’t happen at someone’s house during a visit! We quickly found suspenders, fixed the costume, and were on our way. (Note: Always have at least one back-up for each costume piece!) It also takes a lot of genuine loving effort to remember children’s names, what they want for Christmas from Santa, etc. The families often send a letter in advance to let Santa know about these things. I test Santa in the car as we drive between visits. Whew!

So, last year was our final year of doing this. We know someone else will step in to take over the job, and we are due for a quiet, relaxed Christmas Eve at home together (our first ever). Here is a photo of John in his Santa suit, taken last year, for posterity. I hope your houses are warm, your pantries are full, and your families well. If so, don’t forget to reach out to those who are experiencing harder times. It’s especially difficult at this time of year for those who are in need either financially or emotionally. Oh, and from our house to your house, whatever traditions you celebrate this time of year, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Santa Claus

Santa Claus

*For more information on Mother Goose visit http://www.alphastamps.com/mothergoose.html

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