Next to discovering what Santa left under the tree on Christmas morning, is any holiday activity more eagerly anticipated than a children's Christmas program? During my childhood, parents, teachers and principals - operating as their forebears had done for generations - apparently didn't fully understand what separation of church and state required.
Thus, our school Christmas programs were religious in nature, with the most Madonna-like (not to be confused with the singer Madonna) girl performing as Mary, the tallest boy serving as Joseph and a doll portraying the baby Jesus. There were shepherds swathed in bedsheets, wise men in tinfoil crowns and angels with crepe-paper wings. And then there was me ... perpetually in the chorus caroling "Silent Night" while green with envy of the girl playing Mary.
By the time my sons were in school, political correctness was beginning to take hold. No more religious plays at school. No more mention of Christmas. What's in a name, you ask? Apparently a lot. At the boys' school, Christmas trees in each classroom became holiday trees, and Christmas parties were renamed Holiday Sharing parties.
It reminded me of reading about a little Jewish schoolboy who objected to drawing a bunny at Easter time. The teacher explained that the bunnies his classmates were drawing weren't Easter bunnies - they were spring bunnies. So the little boy drew a bunny and placed a Star of David on its chest. When she saw the result, the teacher exclaimed, "I told you we weren't drawing Easter bunnies!"
And the little boy replied, "I know. He's the sheriff."
Sometimes kids are a lot smarter than adults think they are. But I digress. When my son Greg was in elementary school, my duty as PTA vice president was to plan monthly programs. The December program was scheduled to be a holiday sharing party for kids, their parents and teachers. The sharing part was easy and commendable; everyone bought canned goods to stock soup kitchens for needy residents.
But the audience expected a play. And it couldn't be religious. Fortunately my friend Catherine, a puppeteer, came to the rescue. She loaned me her stage and puppets. The rest was up to me, so I glued a red nose and twig antlers on her deer puppet and wrote a script that liberally borrowed from "The Night Before Christmas" and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Mom sewed a red flannel nightshirt and nightcap for Greg, who performed as narrator, and I persuaded friends Jean and Darlene to crouch behind the stage and serve as puppeteers while I served as emcee.
I no longer remember Jean's or my attire that evening, but Darlene wore a pantsuit with a python print (big in the '70s ... and, tragically, again today), and I can still see her python-clad arm shoved up Rudolph's backside as he danced to the music. She told me that for years afterward, whenever she heard "Rudolph" her arm would raise of its own volition and begin bouncing in time with the tune.
I well remember another outfit Darlene wore later that same week. Our friend Delores, who visited all the classrooms garbed in a department store Santa suit stuffed with pillows, talked Darlene into being her candy cane-distributing elf. (By now, you must be wondering if Darlene's vocabulary included the word "no." No, it did not.) Delores sewed Darlene's green elf suit, and when Darlene - tall and slender - tried it on, it was like the Grinch's heart ... two sizes too small.
"She's bigger than she looks," Delores exclaimed as she saw Darlene prance gingerly down the hall. And when someone offered to toss a quarter on the floor if Darlene would bend over and pick it up, Darlene said she'd had a better offer from the school's custodian, who offered to throw a dollar on the floor for her to retrieve.
I loved school Christmas parties, my own and my kids'. Husband Ray thought I was nuts when I purchased a jigsaw and sawed and painted 35 eighth-inch plywood Santa Snoopies as party favors for Greg and his fourth-grade classmates. Occasionally I'll run into those long-ago kids who'll tell me they still have Santa Snoopy on their Christmas trees. (We presently have two on ours.)
It was good the kids got cute favors, because that was the party where the mother who'd volunteered to make cookies used every cookie cutter in her Tupperware collection. I learned that when a girl at the party came up to me and complained that her cookie was a turkey, and a boy responded, "Well, mine's a jack-o'-lantern, and Scott got a Valentine heart!"
It didn't matter. Christmas, by any name and for many reasons, is wondrously special. Have a merry one!