Switches for Christmas?!? Park relives favorite holiday memory

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Viewing the excitement and wonderment of Christmas through the eyes of a child is one of life’s most memorable pleasures. But to be able to fully appreciate the experience, you must place yourself inside the mind of the child as the Christmas season approaches.
My most memorable Christmas occurred as the decade of the 1950s transitioned into the decade of the 1960s. I was 8 or 9 years old and my recollections are as follows:
Throughout the year leading up to Christmas, when my two brothers and I were being too rambunctious, or when we were lax in performing our chores, or when we got caught disobeying Mom or Dad for a minor infraction, they would remind us that Santa was watching. He was taking note of whether we were being “good” or “bad” and they would admonish us to straighten up, or we may find ourselves on the “naughty list.”
We knew that the degree of “goodness” that must be maintained to stay on the “nice” list was directly proportional to the time remaining before Christmas and thus, we attempted to modify our behavior accordingly. This was difficult to achieve consistently because Christmas had a way of sneaking up on us and sometimes we would not increase the amount of “goodness” fast enough to compensate for the passage of time. This was not through any fault of our own, but rather because of how slowly time seems to pass for children who have only experienced a limited number of Christmases in their lifetime.
Also, my brothers and I had taken notice of one particularly important custom of Santa’s in the few Christmases that we had experienced. And that was, for whatever reason, he seemed to visit our house early on Christmas Eve. He always came while we were at church being wise men or shepherds or some other character in the children’s Christmas play.
We knew that as soon as the church service was over, we would return home and our toys would be waiting for us under the tree. And this Christmas would be no different ó or so we thought ó as we anxiously endured the ride home in the family car.
The Christmas tree was situated in the corner of the living room, just behind the front door. My brothers and I ran from the car to the house, forced our way through the door and slammed it shut to see what Santa had left us. To our surprise, the expected toys were not there.
In their place were three sticks about 3 feet in length, each festooned with a red ribbon bow and an individual name tag. Santa had left us “hickory sticks” or “switches” instead of toys!
The silence that ensued immediately after this discovery seemed to last for an eternity, as my brothers and I waited for the flash of light that signified the end of Earth.
The world stopped spinning. Time stood still. Life as we knew it was over.
This was not a recoverable event.
We realized that all of Mom and Dad’s admonitions to be good since Santa was watching were not idle threats. The worst possible scenario had just played out.
First, tears of sadness came as we thought only of ourselves and the toys and presents that could have been. They were soon replaced by anger. How dare Santa treat us this way? We had been relatively good ó at least good enough to pass the naughty-or-nice-list test. It wasn’t our fault that we lost track of the time remaining before Christmas. How could we face our friends at school? Would we be the only children that didn’t get toys from Santa for Christmas? The humiliation would be unbearable!
I remember picking up my hickory stick, walking over to the trash can in the kitchen and methodically ripping off the bow, and then the name tag and throwing them in the trash as the tears continued to fall.
I then proceeded to break the stick into a bazillion pieces and dropped them summarily into the trash as well. My next memory was to get to bed as quickly as possible and hide from Mom and Dad, who would most certainly take the position of we “warned you that Santa was watching” and that repeatedly disobeying requests to “be good” would have dire consequences.
But then a strange thing happened. Mom and Dad did not take the “we-told-you-so” position. Mom came in and tried to comfort us as we cried in our beds. And then, amidst the doom and gloom, a glimmer of hope!
Mom said that Christmas Eve was not yet over, and that if we prayed real hard and said that we were sorry for fighting with each other, for neglecting our chores and for disobeying them, that maybe, just maybe, he would make a second stop at our house before morning.
I immediately dropped down on my knees beside my bed, folded my hands, and prayed as hard I as ever had in my life.
I remember asking God to bless Mommy and Daddy and promising that I would stop fighting with my brothers, that I would do my chores without having to be reminded and that I would never disobey them, ever again.
And Mom was right!
Early Christmas morning, as soon as we awoke, we ran into the living room and Santa had indeed returned! There were toys underneath the tree for each of us. Our belief in the goodness of Santa Claus was restored and our faith that God does sometime answer our prayers was reinforced.
Santa loved us enough to use that particular Christmas to reinforce some very important lessons. Were we scarred for life as a result of the experience? Not in the least!
And if the truth were known, how many parents reading this today would have liked for Santa to have treated their children the same way; just once, during their childhood? I have fond memories of all of my childhood Christmases, but with the passage of time, they all seem to merge into one large collective memory.
But this Christmas was special, and one that I will never forget.
Alvin Park lives in China Grove.