Monday, December 13, 2010

Waiting for Christmas

The photo is of a Christmas Card from the early 20th Century... I found the card recently as I went through my old stamp collection. Even a century ago, Christmas was about getting stuff...

Although Christmas still seemed that it was a long ways away, I knew it was coming Christmas when the Sears Christmas Catalog arrived. The mailman delivered it around the time of the World Series. The “Wish Book” as it was known was filled with wondrous toys. My brother, sister and I would spend hours looking and thinking about how we might utilize these toys to bring playing to a new level. Although wonderful, over time I learned that the toys never quite lived up to the promises they made in the glossy colored pages of the catalog.

The next marker that reminded us that Christmas was coming was Thanksgiving. The two days off from school was a like a foretaste of the long Christmas holiday. We stuffed ourselves with good food, like at Christmas, but there were no toys. We’d have to wait another month.

After Thanksgiving, it was as if we were in a prison keeping marks on the wall accounting for the number of days till released. But we didn’t have to literally keep the marks; we just had to look at the newspaper each morning. The Wilmington Star News, the newspaper from my hometown, would start right after Thanksgiving with a little box on the top of the front page showing Santa with a sign indicating how many shopping days we had till Christmas. It was exciting as a child to watch the numbers dwindle down. This was in the age when nothing was open on Sundays, so they excluded that day. You only had six days of shopping a week back then and there weren’t nearly the options as we have today. There was a strip mall with Sears on one end and J. C. Fields on the other, and I think a Roses (a five and dime store) in the middle. There were more options downtown, but that was a big trip. Once, during the holidays, we’d go to Belk Berry’s, generally at night so we could see their lighted Christmas displays in the window, with mannequins that moved. We’d drive through town, looking at the lights on the streets and then out to the Waterworks north of town where the “world’s largest Christmas Tree,” a live oak, was decked out with lights. By this point, the holiday seemed imminent.

Of course, all this was preparation for getting stuff. Then, on Christmas Eve, as the stores closed, we’d go to candlelight service at church and be reminded once again of the reason for the Season.

According to the Christian Calendar, we’re now in Advent. It’s a season of waiting and preparing, of recalling Jesus’ birth and being reminded of his return. It’s a season with some of my favorite hymns. For some weird reason, I find myself drawn to music in minor keys. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds me that change is in the work. But my favorite Advent hymn is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” To hear the tune “Picardy” played on a pipe organ is a blessing, yet haunting as I find myself acknowledging that in the face of such grace, silence may be the best response.

May you have a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas.


  1. Merry Christmas and a very prosperous New Year.

  2. Love the card. Getting "stuff" can also include happiness, peace of mind, hope, pleasant company, good times, and all those intangibles.

    Thanks for the memories. The additional Christmas Eve memory for me was being in the children's choir at the church. It was a magical time - literally aglow with excitement.

  3. The same to you, Sage. I grew up before you did, but you describe my childhood as well.

  4. I love Advent. It was so lovely to be at church yesterday. That is what it is all about for me. We have a childrens' Christmas pageant Wednesday night - that kind of thing is what makes the season magic, as well as holy, for me.

    That being said, I enjoy my collection of Santas. People keep giving them to me. And I love Christmas at my sister's farm - so quiet and peaceful, you could just imagine what it was like the night our Lord was born.

  5. What a beautiful post, Sage. You brought back some sweet memories of Christmases past for me. I too looked forward to the Sears catalogue and dreamed of all the toys that could be mine. For some reason when you took me back to that time, I thought of an old store (don't know if you had it in NC) called Two Guys. We'd spend every other weekend shopping at Two Guys! lol

    Enjoy the season, my friend!. The early Christmas card is sweet, but yes, it's more than just about gift giving. Let's remember it's about Him, not us.

  6. OM Gosh Sage-- How many times did you do a WISH List in your head in that Sears Catalogue?? I swear we were twins separated at birth. Our life path continues to amaze me, when you reveal your childhood!

    From Toys- to the Hunting section--remember the cost of a good 30-30 back then!!!

    My FIL has an old Sears Catalouge and it is awesome to look at, and the prices---but--the Dollar was equal to or less than back then! Probably stronger coming off the war!! Times were good in the 50's and 60's!!

    And dream......

    Great stuff Bro!


  7. We did the book, too! I loved that, going through it and finding things. It was almost better than getting gifts themselves.


    I like traditional hymns the best of all Christmas music, I must confess.

  8. I remember midnight mass at 11PM. But I do hope that all who can truly partake of the reason for the season find the stuff they are looking for and remember there are people living on the streets that need stuff especially heavy warm socks. Just in case you want to know what stuff is on some folks list this year.

  9. I remember wishing for the 'Galaxy Commander' Lego set for many years in a row at Christmas and never get it. I've often thought of gifting myself with it now that I'm older and have the funds but I just can't because I know I would be disappointed. Instead I just remember the feelings of hope that I had back then as a child. Nice memories. Merry Christmas and I already know you are going to have a happy New Year!

  10. I had forgotten about the excitement of the catalogs at this season. Taht brought back some nice meoories.

  11. There are times that I long for a Sears catalogue but if I had one I would just consider it junk. Though an old one from the turn of the last century in pristine condition and made from acid free paper would be too cool

  12. It's hard to find the time for introspection, which is sorely needed at Advent, for me at least.

    I too remember the catalogs and looking longingly. You're right, though. I only remember a few of the things I got at Christmas, even though at the time, they were the most important things in the world.


  13. Oh yes you bring back the days of when being a child was such a time of waiting and suspense for the great holidays and spirit! We also lit a candle every Sunday for 4 Sundays before Christmas, for Advents although at the time I really didn't understand much of it....but still we followed all these lovely of traditions into the knowing and learning and now sharing within my own little family! I love your card from the olden days! Very cool!

  14. and to you as well...i remember getting that catalog every year...still like to take in teh lights...

  15. Lovely to hear your childhood memories. I hope you'll have a wonderful season.

  16. Beautiful card! I remember picking all of my presents out for "santa" from that catalogue. Hysterical! Have a great holiday and happy new year!

  17. Ah the ol' Sears & Roebuck catalog. Whatever happened to Roebuck anyway?

    How so very long Christmas Day took to arrive back then and how it seems to arrive at near-light-speed these days.

    Good post.

  18. You brought me back to those days, Sage. I remember now. Oh my! The Sears and J. C. Penney catalogs! For several years, I was on a campaign to get a BB gun, and not a Red Ryder, either. The exact object of my desire morphed over time from a Marksman CO2 pistol to a few other models, but eventually landed on a Crossman 760--the baddest of 'em all. I would wander through the sections of the catalog, through men's and women's clothing, and children's toys, and outdoor gear, before arriving at the firearms section--remember when grownups could buy shotguns and rifles through the Sears catalog?--and finally, at THAT page. The BB/pellet gun page.

    It all comes back, along with the magic, the solemnity, and the mystery of Christmas. I understood at an early age that it really was about more than getting stuff. But I think as we grow older, we come to understand humanity's desperate need that is the underlying reason why Christmas exists. The traditions are wonderful, but it's really about our brokenness, God's love, and hope reborn in the face of the cold, dark night. May your Christmas be blessed, Sage.

  19. Great reminiscent post!
    The Sears catalog...that's what marked it for me too. In fact - I think I've kept all the Sears catalogs that marked a special year for the last on in the 1900's (that makes us sound ancient), or each one for the years my kids were born.
    Have a wonderful Christmas...
    (and I like the old card!)

  20. Wonderful post and memories Sage- I wish you a Merry Christmas too, and a Joyful New Year...