By Dawn Cranfield
‘Tis the Season to be Merry
With the Halloween decorations carefully stowed away in boxes and trunks for another year, it is inevitable that I begin to think about the holiday season. I have a tendency to get very nostalgic from mid-October through New Year’s, with recollections of past holidays flooding my mind; more likely the memories are idealistic conjugations of what I wanted the holidays to be like instead of what they really were, imperfect family dysfunctions.
Nevertheless, this time of year still evokes strong memories of my youth and what it was like to grow up in a time that was more straight forward, friendlier, happier, less political, and simply put more all American. I was raised in a time when it was okay if there were winners and losers, not everybody received a trophy or a ribbon just for participating, and that was okay, you merely tried harder the next time so you would be a winner as well. We had valedictorians, we pledged allegiance to our flag, our teachers were not afraid to discipline us, and if we could not read or write, we did not get to move on to the next grade.
As children, from kindergarten up through our senior year of high school, our job was to go to school every day that it was open. While some kids “sluffed” or “cut school”, I took my career of school pretty seriously, I loved learning and enjoyed being in the academic environment; but it was not just the learning that was gratifying, it was the extension of our home life. School was a place where we were able to celebrate all of the holidays that we also celebrated at home, but with our friends and teachers; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, they were all huge holidays at school.
We had never heard of year-round school, so we all began school some time in the fall, Halloween was our first big school holiday. Even though I went to 15 different schools, it was essentially the same no matter where I went (at least through elementary school). For Halloween, we dressed up in our costumes all day, then usually in the afternoon there was a party with oodles of homemade treats and a parade of each classroom. We would go from room to room showing off our costumes; many of the schools I attended also held costume contests for various prizes.
Next was Thanksgiving, not quite as grand as Halloween, but there was usually some type of movie day or something equivalent to make us
aware that it was a special holiday. We typically spent an afternoon making turkey crafts and eating homemade cupcakes provided by the room mother and having fun blowing off steam while inhaling sugar and rubbing our fingers in sticky Elmer’s Glue.
Of course, Christmas was the best of all! We usually spent from Thanksgiving until Christmas break working on songs for the Christmas pageant, beautifully written songs that we would butcher with our off-key little voices as we sang at the top of our lungs while the elderly pianist would just smile and continue playing. There was always a gift exchange with wonderfully cheap gifts equivalent to those of a White Elephant sale, but giddily received as we would try to guess who had drawn our name. More homemade treats on party day, a whole month of arts and crafts and fabulously tacky presents to take home to our parents (wreaths made of our hand prints, ornaments with our pictures on them), and our classrooms would be decorated with red and green paper chains and strings of popcorn.
Valentine’s would round out the year with a card exchange and another party. My hand would always hurt as I sat there at night watching the Charlie Brown Valentine Special and wrote out each Valentine card painstakingly trying to print them each correctly. I tried to make sure I selected just the right one to go with my relationship with each child in the classroom; I did not want to give off the wrong vibe… or make somebody believe I had feelings when I did not.
I was so excited when I sent my children off to school 17 and 18 years ago, hoping they would experience those same joys that I had when the holidays occurred. Little by little my hopes were dashed as I was made aware of how little their school years would parallel my own; there would be no Halloween parties at all, they celebrated Harvest Festival but with no costumes and no party, they did nothing for Thanksgiving, there was no Christmas, it was a holiday celebration. No Christmas.
However, there was a Cinco de Mayo celebration. I had to check my Atlas to make certain we had not moved.
Additionally, there was no longer any homemade treats allowed at the school, ever. If you wished to send a treat, it had to be purchased from a store and had to be delivered in the original store packaging. As Billy Pilgrim says from Slaughterhouse Five, “So it goes. So it goes.”
My sister started to work for one of the big box stores a few years ago as a cashier, and that is when I heard the most egregious thing of all, when greeting customers, she was not allowed to say “Merry Christmas” but instead was only allowed to say “Happy holidays”. Seriously? Are we so intolerant in this country that if somebody is going to be pleasant enough to say “Merry Christmas” and we did not believe in Christ, we are going to be so bent out of shape that we cannot respond “Thank you”? That is the equivalent of somebody saying “Hello, how are you?” and responding “Oh, I have the measles and the mumps, an ache, a rash and achy bumps….” We do not respond that way, we simply say, “I am fine, thank you for asking.” It is nothing more than polite simple pleasantries. So it goes, so it goes.
When did we have to get so politically correct that we cannot simply enjoy the holiday season? Now, we are all worried about litigious customers, unhappy parents, and politics.
My response is Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, and Merry Christmas! May your holiday season be wonderful.