A dear friend and I were discussing what Christmas was for us as children. I, naturally, began talking about my “Shoe Box Christmas,” and to my surprise, my friend had had a “Shoe Box Christmas,” too!
One Christmas in particular stands out in my mind. The year was 1944. I was seven years old. My mother had just died in November. Christmas Eve that year was on a Sunday, and we were all gathered at the Church for our annual Christmas program. When the program was over, daddy came to take us to his brother’s house where we had been living since mother’s death. There was my older sister Jean; my brother Louis; baby sister Beth and me, Rita.
Walking to Uncle Henry’s I said, “Daddy, did Santa Claus already come?” “Yes,” he said, “Santa has come and gone.” “Did he leave us any presents?” was my next questions. And daddy replied, “Of course, he left you presents.” At once we started walking faster in excited anticipation of what Santa had left for us.
The little yellow candle blinked brightly from the paper-stuffed window, as daddy knocked on the door. Uncle Henry opened to his knock with a broad smile on his face. My heart was going a mile a minute! I spied the four shoe boxes stacked neatly on the coffee table. Four man-sized shoe boxes with each of our names printed in big letters. We all made a mad dash for the boxes.
Anxiously I opened my box to see: two oranges, two apples, a large candy cane, other mixed hard candy, nuts and a package of jacks (In my day they were called jackstones.), all neatly packed in my very own shoe box. Everybody got the same thing, but until Christmas Day, we were only allowed to look in our own boxes - to see what Santa had left for us! The next day, Christmas Day, we could show and brag. Once we had put the boxes back in place it was time for bed.
It was always hard to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, but after much tossing and turning, being filled to the brim with excitement and expectancy, we finally did go to asleep, only to wake up early Christmas morning, make a mad dash for our shoe boxes, play a while, and then begin our pilgrimage through the neighborhood.
The other children in our small community would have their “Shoe Box Christmas,” too! For some, this would be all that they would get, but for us there was always more because during the day, our grandmother would come with her boxes. Somehow she always managed to get us an extra toy, and some type of clothing we needed.
Funny thing though, we were happy, as were all the children in our area. Maybe it was because all the families in the area were poor; maybe it was just the time of the year. I don’t know. There’s one thing I do know, and that is, that I never heard anybody crying because they didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas.
It was Christmas. We smelled Christmas - all through our house, and most of the houses in the area, there was the smell of fresh fruit - oranges, apples, etc.
We ate Christmas - all of the mothers in the neighborhood busied themselves cooking. There’d be chicken and dressing, turnip greens, sometimes chitterlings, ham, cakes, and pies. In every house there seemed to be an abundance of food, and we would go from house to house - a piece of cake here - a slice of pie there, and all the food we could possibly hold.
We played Christmas - sharing what we had, running, enjoying ourselves to the fullest! Yes, Christmas was a happy time!
Most important though, we understood that it was Jesus’ birthday we were celebrating. This fact we were taught at an early age. Maybe that’s why no one realized they were poor. Maybe because we knew that Jesus was right there with us in our poverty. One other thing, I never knew I was poor until somebody told me. Yes Christmas, indeed, was a happy time! Perhaps you, too, know about, and have your own story about a “Shoe Box Christmas.” I know I’ll never forget mine! What about you?