Advent Calendar: It’s Almost Winter Break!

(Day 16 of the Advent Calendar of Christimas Memories: Christmas at School)

The month of December was always a special time in elementary school. There were so many things going on. It really made the month special.

We began making presents for our parents right after Thanksgiving. In kindergarten, it was a handprint plaque. In 2nd or 3rd grade, we were given special paper to create our our plates. I drew Christmas morning. The plate is still in our cupboard, though looking a little haggard after 35 years. Another year, we made plastic canvass boxes. In 6th grade, it was ceramic ash trays and bowls. I remember how excited we were to send our finish product to the kiln–as if this was some strange magical place.

About the same time, we started preparing for the holiday show. This would be two performances. One was during school time and one at night for our parents. I remember when we had Ms. Bos for 5th Grade. She had Dutch roots and taught us this poem to recite for our presentation:

Sinterklaas kapoentje
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje
Gooi wat mijn laarsje
Dank je Sinterklaasje

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized the poem is recited in that old classic, “Miracle on 34th Street”.

The days before break were filled with other activities like coloring winter scenes, making cut out Santa Claus and Snow people, and all sorts of other crafty things. I learned how to make God’s Eyes in elementary and still make them with my youngest nieces to this day.

Amongst the fun were different activities to remind us to help others. We always had a can food drive during December. The winning class was rewarded some treat, though I don’t recall anymore what that fantastical prize was.

We collected small items to make care packages for soldiers in the Vietnam War and for poor family. I recall the stage in the auditorium being set up with many boxes loaded with toothpaste, brushes, combs, towels, and other necessities. We came in before school started to fill plastic bags of goodies.

The same teacher who taught us the Dutch poem also had us make little presents for the senior citizens at the rest home up the road. We’d spend several weeks making gifts and learning songs. Then the week before break, we walked the 2 or 3 blocks to the rest home. We distributed our gifts, then sang Christmasy songs for the residents.

The last week before break was spent decorating the class room for the holiday show. I recall one year making Santa Clauses out of paper bags and construction paper. They had our names on them and fitted over our chairs. There was a place for all our assignments for the first half of the year.

The last day of school before break was the show. We did our thing for the school assembly in the day time. Then our class room had a party. It was always a special lunch that each student participated in making. Parents brought in cookies, cup cakes, and drinks. In 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, we had a gift exchange. Everyone got a present. The teachers always gave each student a gift, too. As I got older, I wrote out cards for my special friends and we exchanged gifts amongst ourselves.

We went home filled with excitement, loaded down with goodies, and way too much sugar in our system. But, boy, were we happy!

Then came the exciting part. It was always something special when went to school at night. The seven of us would load in the car and head out for Hillside School. Once there, we ran amok because all that sugar was kicking into gear. It always seem different. We entered school through the front entryway, up the steps, rather than the back side by the black top. We were wearing whatever costume we needed for our class presentation.

We would sit in special seats with our class feeling quite independent as our parents sat in the back. Then we’d be lead out the side door to the stage. We’d do our presentation and then head back for our seats.
There was always a round of caroling and Santa sometimes visited.

We then lead our parents back to our classroom. There were more dessert treats, candy canes, and other goodies. We showed our parents everything we’d worked on that month and gave them their gifts. They met our teacher and some of the other parents. We left presents for the teacher, the school secretary, and the Principal. Then it was time to go home.

This always marked the true beginning of the Christmas celebrations. I’d be filled to the brim with joy and excitement knowing I wouldn’t have to go back to school until after the first of the year. In that time, we’d party, we’d get sick on too much food, we’d shake packages, wait for Santa, and bounce around the house waiting for Christmas morning.

Our teachers did a great job of making the weeks before break special. There usually weren’t any serious assignments due. We were serious in our role of merry making and gift creating. I remember it with happiness. Those were fun times!


Advent Calendar: Making Someone Else’s Holiday Cheery

[Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories:  Day 12…Volunteer Work)

I’ll say it.  I love the holiday season.  I love the paper snowflakes, getting Christmas cards in my mailbox, finding presents for me under the tree.  But, Christmas is a time for thinking about others.  While we receive, we should always try to do something for those who won’t have much for Christmas.

When I was in elementary school, there was a rest home about two blocks away.  Each December we began making little gifts for the residents of that rest home.  I can’t remember what they were.  We were in 5th and 6th grade, so one can only guess what it might have been.

Our teacher, Miss Bos, would have us practice carols.  We’d learn several songs, mostly likely very badly.

Then, the last week before Winter Break, we’d pack up our gifts and walk up the hill to the rest home.  The residents would be assembled for our “concert” (and I’m using that term loosely).  We’d sing all the songs we memorized.  Then, we’d hand out our handmade gifts.  Usually, we got a candy cane in return.  After we were done, we’d walk down the hill back to school.

When I was an in my 30s, my Grandmother lived in a rest home that had a holiday party each December.  They often asked for a donated gift so that each resident could have something to open for Christmas.

Each year, I’d go to one of the dollar stores, pilfer things I’d bought through the year, and hit up family for things.  I’d wrap each one up in festive paper.  Then, my Dad and I would cart two to three bags filled with gifts to the rest home.  For some reason this rankled my Grandma, so we’d have to hurry up and the deliver the gifts to the office before she saw us.

This year, I got to help my sister with her project.  She’s a floral designer by trade.  She decided to make over a thousand corsages and boutonnieres for residents of local rest homes.  She start them months ago.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, she needed help putting pins in them and packaging them in plastic bags.  My Mom and I were glad to help.  We must have packaged about 600 of them.

Last week, my sister and Mom set off for rest homes.  They were to drop them off at five local places.  In each, the staff was very happy to receive the donation.  It may not seem like much.  But, these poinsettia corsages will bring a little bit of cheer to someone’s holiday season.

So, when the holidays approach, as I’m having my own fun, I try to do a little something for someone else.  The spirit of the season is sharing after all.


Advent Calendar: Give the Fruit Cake to Grandma

(Day 14 of Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories:  Fruit Cake, Friend or Foe?)

My family was born and raised on chocolate.  Chocolate cake, chocolate candy, chocolate ice cream.  So on the rare occasion someone made the faux pas of sending us a, there was only response:  Gross!  Wrap it up for Grandma!

None of liked the damn thing.  The whole idea of a fruit cake is just appalling to me.  But, my Grandma Shellabarger loved them.  She enjoyed them any time of year. It was one of her favorite treats.

If someone gave us a fruit cake, we switched tags and into Grandma’s box it went.  It was one way to make sure we weren’t stuck with them and it made Grandma’s day.  She never knew the difference and she loved our thoughtful gesture ;)