Christmas in October
If you read this blog, you must be ready to travel to the strange places where my mind wanders.”
Maybe it’s a little early. We haven’t gone trick or treating and the Thanksgiving turkey is in the distant future. However, we are thinking about Christmas. Hurricane Katrina was more than two years ago and the holidays have been a blur. Many of the traditions and celebrations to which we looked forward have been suspended, while our families were scattered all over the United States. What kind of memories will our children have because of the aftereffects of “the thing?” Lately, I’ve been thinking of my own childhood memories. I was twelve years old when Hurricane Betsy flooded our house on Piety Street in the Ninth Ward. I don’t remember Christmas in 1965. I’m not the only one thinking of ways to create wonderful memories for children. Our school’s principal has already planned the lunch menu down to the sweet potato pies for dessert. I’m thinking about Winter Wonderland.
Growing up in New Orleans, there was a seasonal ritual that all children anticipated with great joy. Anyone who is over the age of twenty-five will remember. In the storefront window of Maison Blanche department store (today a Ritz-Carlton Hotel) a magical scene was created every December that mesmerized men, women and children. The display included the newest toys perched on mounds of sparkling white snow, a beautifully lighted towering Christmas tree, and a whistling train that ran on a track through the middle of this magical scene. Toys came alive in that window. Toy soldiers stood at attention; choir boys sang carols; and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer smiled and nodded his head to the music. These puppets sang, danced, cavorted and even flew through the air. Mr. Bingle, a talking snowman, an assistant to Santa Claus, was the star of the show. This special little character's snowman body was adorably adorned with an ice cream cone hat, candy cane in hand, red ribbon with bells and holly wings. The holly wings were so he could fly. I still remember his theme song from the radio and later his mini TV show:
Jingle, jangle, jingle/Here comes Mr. Bingle/With another message from Kris Kringle/Time to launch your Christmas season/Maison Blanche makes Christmas pleasin'/Gifts galore for you to see/Each a gem from MB!
Okay, some people will say it was just a clever commercial to sell toys, but it was more than that. It was magic. I wanted to recreate that magic for the children in my school during the 1990s. In the school where I was principal (my former life), we collected animated display characters and built our own Winter Wonderland scene. Inside a little white picket fence, we put up our 9 ft. lighted tree, dancing animals and dolls, carolers, twinkling reindeer, and popular children’s characters. They sat atop mounds of bunting and fake show as a whistling train ran on a track through the middle of the magical scene. A special addition for our annual display was the collection of toys we gave away in a lottery the day before the holiday break began. Usually, we had perfect attendance at a time when most schools were half empty because students had to be present for the Yule Lottery to get a ticket. Every child received a small gift from the PTO. But lottery winners received the bikes, dolls, sports equipment, radios, games, and skates that filled out the spectacle.
Although our showcase was a far cry from the one in the Canal St. storefront, it was a special treat that our neighborhood families looked forward to each year. Parents brought toddlers to see the moving dolls, Disney characters, and Mr. and Mrs. Santa (African American and Caucasian versions). Over the years, we added more and more animated figures for our display. By 2005, we had dozens of delightful figurines for our Winter Wonderland scene, but they are now locked in a molding, Katrina-flooded school with boarded up windows. The teachers at McDonogh 42 who worked with me years ago want to bring this special tradition to the new charter school. How hard can it be to bring back the magic? We long to recreate some nostalgia, the thrill of life the way we were pre-Katrina. We will see.