My family had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day rituals during my childhood in Barnesville, Georgia.
Interestingly, though, even though my parents were the kind of Christians who were at the church every time the doors were opened, none of our rituals involved the worship of God for the sending of Jesus into the world. That was because our Baptist church provided no opportunities for such worship unless Christmas Eve or Day happened to fall on a Sunday. Our church rituals were two: (1) a Christmas play held on a Sunday night a week or two before Christmas Day; while it was not exactly a pageant they did manage to work a nativity scene into it somehow, usually in a dream sequence, and (2) the coming of Santa Claus to the sanctuary on the Wednesday night immediately preceding the big day; we had the most awful-looking Christmas tree you have ever seen (actually, the tree was fine—the decorations were awful; we even had those lights with bubbling water in them) right there in front of the altar (the closest thing Baptists had to a Holy of Holies) and everybody got a bag filled with fruit and nuts.
We live in better days when even we Baptists have discovered the value of such high church practices as Advent and Christmas Eve worship; some of us are even paying some attention to the Twelve Days of Christmas, attention which is really helpful since during the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany we’re finished with Santa Claus and presents and can give our full attention to Jesus.
Well, to Jesus and to college football bowl games.
After I had seen, identified, analyzed, critiqued, and played with my many new toys, Mama and Daddy would open their gifts from each other. Daddy would thank Mama for his pajamas or shirt or tie or whatever. Mama would then open her beautifully wrapped gift, open the box, unfold the tissue paper, look at the gorgeous dress, and say, “That is so pretty. I’ll take it back.”
Then they would kiss and all would be right with the world.
Mama’s beautiful dress that she never kept always came from Deraney’s Department Store. Every year a few days before Christmas Daddy would go visit Mrs. Mable Deraney and they would spend an hour or so looking at dresses. He would finally go with one of Mrs. Deraney’s recommendations and she would wrap it up and send him and his gift on their way. Daddy would proudly give it to Mama on Christmas morning and she would be so pleased to get it and even more pleased to return it.
I sort of wondered about it all but was too busy playing with my new G. I. Joes to give it too much thought. The truth was that Mrs. Deraney and my mother just had different tastes; one was not better than the other, rather, one was just different than the other.
Mable Deraney’s recent passing. I thought about some other ways in which Mrs. Deraney was different than my mother and in which the Deraney family was different than my family. One major difference was that the Deraneys were Catholic while my family was Baptist. As a matter of fact, so far as I can remember, during my growing up years the Deraneys were the only Catholic family I knew and the Wisebrams were the only Jewish family I knew. Back in the day, downtown Barnesville was the center of Lamar County’s ecumenical relationships! I wish that I had spent some time and effort really getting to know those families; it would have done me good to have my very limited childhood worldview expanded.
Mrs. Mable and Mr. Joe always struck me as being a bit exotic—and, believe it or not, we didn’t have a lot of exotic in Lamar County back then! Now, five decades later, I look back with gratitude for the flavor that Mable Deraney and others added to the mix that was my hometown.
Oh, remind me to tell you sometime about that time that I tried on a pair of bell-bottom jeans that dragged the floor and Mr. Elijah Wisebram offered to cut them off to “make them fit …”