The lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas always takes me back to the days at Hagar Grade School. Just as soon as Thanksgiving break was over, we began preparations for our annual grade school Christmas program.

Actually, it began earlier in November, when plans were made for the plays, skits, poems and songs that were to be presented.

When Mr. Otis Hinkle was principal, we always put on an elaborate program. Each student, eager or otherwise, had to participate. Mr. Hinkle was an exacting director; we had to have our parts completely memorized, and also put the right “feeling” in our parts. The shyest student had to have a part, even if it were just a short poem.

This was a frantic month at Hagar Grade School. We would troop down to Bethel Methodist Church that nestled at the foot of the hill below the school every afternoon for practice during the four weeks preceding Christmas. We would have two or three long plays, several one-act plays, plus skits, poems and songs. We rehearsed the entire program over and over until Mr. Hinkle was satisfied.

After all these years, (70?) parts of that program still echoes in my mind.  I remember a little skit that featured a young hillbilly swain trying to court a fair maiden. I thought the girl’s part was played by my cousin, Nadine Samples McKown (deceased), but Myrtle Belle Brown Arbogast (also deceased) told me that she played the part. I think Clyde Salyers played the part of Ben, but I can’t remember the girl’s name. He had bought her a bottle of perfume called “New-Mown Hay” and I recall her saying, “Be you, Ben!” and “Did you, Ben!” These long-ago characters live again and romp in my mind.

There was such excitement the night of the program—people would come from miles around, and there was hardly parking room for all the vehicles. Our family would walk to the church to save parking room for the visitors; yet today I can hear the snow crunch underfoot, see the stars twinkling overhead in the frosty air, and feel the excitement rising to fever pitch, making it hard to think or even breathe.

The church would be so crowded that latecomers would have to stand in the aisles. We would rush behind pulled curtains, pinning on costumes and putting last minute props together. There was always that sinking feeling that we would forget our lines completely. Actors on Broadway on opening night could never be more excited that we were.

One memorable night, just before the program began, one of the older girls, Avis Hanshaw Falin, (deceased) lifted my baby brother, Ronnie, (also deceased) up over the curtain to take a peek at the overflowing crowd. He got scared and grabbed the wire holding the curtains with both hands, and down it all came. A red-faced Mr. Hinkle rushed up with a hammer exclaiming, “I knew that doggoned nail wouldn’t hold!” We never did tell him that Avis and Ronnie tore it down.

We would have a huge Christmas tree in the corner, hung with bright ornaments and presents we had purchased each other from drawing names. One of the neighborhood men would be persuaded to don the well-worn Santa Claus suit, and stuffed with pillows, would give out the gifts to the appropriate child.  Someone in the community always received a gift package from anonymous giver containing a pig’s tail from the November butchering. It was all part of the fun, and taken in good heart.

There were many factors involved that we never thought of as children. One was the extreme generosity of the people at the Methodist Church in allowing us use their church building for weeks to practice, and another was how much we children benefited from the whole program. We acquired some much needed self confidence in learning to speak before a crowd, we learned teamwork in putting on a play together, and we also learned to memorize.

Mr. Hinkle could have had another motive in keeping us busy all those weeks this time of year. We didn’t have swings, slides or playground equipment, such as schools have nowadays.  We had a dirt playground, and before the ground froze hard, it would be a muddy mess. Many of the boys would find a soft, sloppy mud bank to slide down, and their blue jeans would be so mud-covered that you couldn’t tell what color they were. We didn’t have much to entertain us until sleigh-riding weather came, and the Christmas program kept us occupied until then.

Many years have passed, and many of the children have gone on to reap their eternal reward.  Still Christmas comes once again, and those of us left here can rejoice once more in the Child who was born; the Son who was given. Our hope is not in the Infant lying in a manger, but in a Risen Savior who came to seek and save that which was lost. I am so glad that He found me!

 

                    CHRISTMAS BELLS

                 By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

                 I heard the bells on Christmas Day

                 Their old familiar carols play

                 And wild and sweet

                 The words repeat

                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

                 And thought how, as the day had come,

                 The belfries of all Christiandom

                  Had rolled along

                 The unbroken song

                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

                 ‘Til ringing, singing on its way

                 The world revolved from night to day,

                 A voice, a chime

                 A chant sublime

                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

                 And in despair I bowed my head:

                 ‘There is no peace on earth’ I said

                 ‘For hate is strong,

                 And mocks the song

                 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

                 Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

                 ‘God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!

                 The Wrong shall fail,

                 The Right prevail,

                 With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

 

As this Christmas season approaches, let us remember the words of Francis Cardinal Spellman, “Holiday and Holy Day, Christmas is more than a yule log, holly or tree. It is more than natural good cheer and the giving of gifts.  Christmas is even more than the feast of the home and of children, the feast of love and friendship. It is more than all of these together.

“Not until men lay aside greed, hatred and the tyranny of evil passions, to travel the road that began at Bethlehem, will the Star of Christmas illuminate the world.  Christmas is Christ, the Christ of justice and charity, of freedom and peace.  Christmas is the Birthday of freedom, for it is only the following of Christ that makes men free.