The lights dim and there is a hush over the crowd as the children come into the gym and take their places on the bleachers. As I sit on the small stage awaiting the reading of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, I have a wonderful view of children and parents. For on this night it is the Christmas program at Hamilton Elementary School. Camera flashes begin to go off and parents scoot up to the front to catch a glimpse and a photo of their child. I think every parent, grandparent and neighbor in Hamilton is at the program as every bleacher seat and every chair is filled.
The students have been looking forward to this for weeks practicing songs in their classroom and decorating the hallways with Santa letters and Christmas wreaths made from old cards and paper plates. The evening hallways show off the twinkle lights that adorn bulletin boards. If you were to take a step back in time Hamilton School is reminiscent of decades gone by. The modern conveniences that are so prominent in the new schools have passed us by. There are no phones or televisions in the classrooms….no modern cloakrooms…no state of the art conveniences, but Hamilton has been home to me for as long as I can now remember. There is something wonderful about this hometown school, I guess you could call us all family as opposed to teachers and staff. On this Christmas program night it is evident as teachers make their way back to school to open up classrooms so children can gather. The hallways are full of laughter and love and beauty. Children who normally attend school in t-shirts and jeans are now in dresses of pink and red…satin and bows. The boys have vests and white shirts with the collars sticking up in the back and their hair slicked down by mothers who tried to make them stand still all the while.
I remember my very first Christmas program as I child. It wasn’t fancy, we just sang. I do know that I secretly wanted the lead part, but it went to a girl in my classroom who read the Bible twice through already. Or so she said. (We were in fourth grade!) My dress was blue and I got to wear my patent leather shoes to the program as opposed to my every day saddle oxfords. I remember standing on that stage unable to breath as I was so nervous. I was shy when I was young.
The teacher, Miss Lomont, came and sat by me and patted my knee. My hair was in pigtails, my teeth were crooked, but I felt so important in that moment.
Tonight is the same. I look at their faces. Hope. Sweetness. Courage. Impishness. Twinkle lights adorn the gym and they begin singing Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas. Every child sings as loud as he/she can. Each class one a time sings a song or two. They even put a dreamy feel in White Christmas. At one of the rehearsals I heard Tonya, one of our teachers, say to them…sing it for your grandparents, it is their song. She was so right. On this night they do sing it for their grandparents.
The show isn’t fancy…no speaking parts…no dramatic sets or costumes…and some of the time they are off key and not even with the music. It doesn’t matter. The program ends with thunderous clapping and there is great commotion of parents and children trying to find each other. Children are anxious to hear the words the program was wonderful, you are wonderful.
As quickly as the gym was set up to look like a fairyland, it is taken apart and everything hauled back into classrooms or car trunks. The lights are stark and bright and tomorrow the high school students will play basketball in the gym. Tomorrow the children will wear t-shirts and jeans, but the Christmas magic will remain.
I drive back home over roads that are still a bit icy from the morning snow. They are empty and deep coldness is settling down upon us. In our world of change I am thankful for things that do not. Christmas programs. Moonlight on snow. Christmas lights in windows. Children. I pull into the driveway at the White Picket Gardens. It is good to come home. I find another warm quilt in the closet and find myself humming White Christmas as I close the curtains on the holy darkness.