For unto us a child is born. Shazam!
In the fifth grade, I made my true acting debut as Gladys Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I spent that December traveling from school to school in the county with a cast of other children entertaining the masses. It was a fun year, and I will always remember being very excited to play a Herdman.
My father used to read the Best Christmas Pageant Ever to us each and every season and it was a very real way to get us prepared for the holidays. I was obsessed with the Herdmans and loved the fact they were always in to endless trouble.
Very similar to my life now, my childhood consisted of running around like chickens with our heads chopped off. At Christmas time, our family was even more frantic. We spent most of December going to church on Sundays, preparing for Christmas parties, buying gifts for family and friends and waiting impatiently for Christmas Eve.
The music is a very big part of Christmas for me. I love to hear “What Child Is This” sung by our church choir. My grandfather, Papa Bear, would beg to hear Mary’s Little Boy Child sung by Sheila and Sheila only. When I would get to church on the Sundays in December, I would immediately look in the bulletin to see what Christmas carols we would sing. Even now as I write this, I am listening to Louis Armstrong’s “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” preceded by “O Holy Night.” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” I am that girl. That girl who can listen to Christmas music 24-7 from December 1st until the 31st and be perfectly content. I love the music that comes with Christmas, and I love it the most when I hear it at Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church sung by our choir and congregation. It just isn’t Christmas for me if I don’t have the music.
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…
I don’t want to take away from my sister Kate’s Christmas, but on Christmas Eve, everything calmed down for the moment. We would finish delivering last minute gifts and go see the grandparents…first Nana, then Gran. Nana would have Tipsy Cake, the best Tipsy Cake ever, and Gran’s house would be decorated with three different Christmas trees and the coolest candle fans that spun angels. Someone (we’re not sure who) would be down the hill with a red light and the cousins would run to the window to see Rudolph outside. Make no mistakes, I am going to do that for my children this Christmas Eve.
After our 8:00 service, we would go home and get ready for bed. Up until our mid-20’s, before we got married, we continued to make palates on Kate’s bedroom floor (the only time of the year we were allowed to go in Kate’s room) and get ready for bed.
Silent Night, Holy Night. We would lie on the floor in the dark and wait. Wait for morning until we fell asleep.
All is calm. Peace on Earth. That was real Christmas for me. Lying on the floor with Kate, Burton and Ken together with no fighting or fussing, only sweet anticipation of Christmas Day.
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.
In December of 2000, I worked on Christmas Eve in Manhattan, and when I left work at 10:00 p.m., I took the subway to Penn Station and got on a train alone to Long Island to stay with a friend’s family. There were not many people on the train so I had an hour to sit quietly and reflect on the past year and what this holiday was bringing. I had spoken to Mary Ann earlier in the day, and she told me to go into my favorite store, Banana Republic, and buy the long, black coat I wanted as an early Christmas present from her. I did, and I was wearing that coat on the train, wondering what she and Dad and Nana and Mom and Burton, Kate and Ken were doing. I wondered how Burton’s solo sounded. I wondered if Dad was going to slice oranges the next morning and keep them refrigerated just the way I liked them.
That December, I really didn’t have much of a Christmas. We didn’t have a tree in our Brooklyn townhouse. I worked everyday and every night and had not done any shopping. I had not gone to any church and the only Christmas music I had really heard was the MUZAC on the elevator. I spent Christmas Eve with someone else’s family and as sweet as they were, on Christmas morning, the only thing I wanted was to call home.
Burton answered the phone and I remember her saying “Inie, I have the best Christmas present for you. Are you ready?”
“They are building a Bojangle’s across from the Walmart. Merry Christmas!”
As you can imagine, nothing made me laugh more. And then, in true, Burton fashion, in perfect pitch, she sang me her solo from church the night before.
I’ll be home for Christmas.
Christmas is not Christmas for me unless I am in Tarboro. I have fortunately discovered that earlier rather than later, and I look forward to making Christmas for my husband and my children as perfect as mine was. Reading from the Greatest Pageant Ever, going to church and listening to the sounds of the season, participating in advent, breakfast with Mary & Joseph, finding peace on Christmas Eve…