by Robert GillisKennebunkport - Christmas Display
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 12/1996

In a week filled with an office Christmas party, two family tree trimmings, a movie with friends, picking up our own tree, addressing cards, more Christmas shopping, not to mention everyday life, my thoughts keep drifting back to a simpler Christmas time – and how I got back some of the childhood magic.

Over twenty years ago, Mom, Theresa and I would make our annual Christmas shopping trip into Boston an extremely enjoyable day. We didn’t own a car and this was in the pre-mall days, so this trip to the city was a big deal for us.

We rode the bus to the T station, and took the red line to the station that was simply called “Washington” back then. As the rackety and antique Hawley street escalator made its wonderful “clack clack clack” noise, I thought about the $35 bulging in my wallet and how rich I felt. I’d saved for weeks for this day.

We stepped off the escalator into the cold December afternoon, and we heard the familiar ringing of the salvation army bells. I smiled again. Boston! Christmas time! We’d be so excited that we could barely contain ourselves.

Our first stop was always Arch Street Church, to go to confession (“Bless me father, I took the name of the Lord in vain twice”) and then we’d light candles and say prayers.

From there we’d head to the store that used to be called Jordan Marsh. The store was always mobbed, and it was very exiting to be flooded with all the scents from the perfume counters and the visual explosion of Christmas in every direction. We’d get on the escalator and head upstairs to the Enchanted Village, and then head upstairs to see Santa. At the mature age of 11, I was already “in the know” about who was really delivering the Christmas presents, but at age 8, Theresa still got her picture taken. I’ve often reflected about what a joyful period it was when Theresa believed and I didn’t – it really made the holiday more special.

After Theresa got her picture taken, we’d begin our shopping. We’d head to Woolworth’s, Grants and Kreegees, and I remember the roar of the heating air vents as they blasted us with warm air as we entered each store. We’d go in separate directions, buying little presents for each member of the family.

By dinner time, the bags were already heavy and we were starved. We usually had dinner at the Kresgees basement cafeteria – it might not have been the best restaurant in town, but it sure felt like it to us. Our hamburger, fries and drink (and chocolate pudding) were more than enough to make us happy.

After dinner, we’d start our shopping again, and by around 8:00 we were done. We’d head back to Grants and pick up some Spanish peanuts, and then walk over to Boston Common to see the Christmas lights. It was cold out, but seeing all those beautiful colors hanging from the trees was well worth the discomfort. We might even take the trolley to Prudential Center to see that famous Christmas tree. Ablaze with over 15,000 multi-colored lights, it was (and still is) quite a sight.

After the subway and bus ride home, we’d find that Dad had made us some of his terrific homemade fried rice, and then it was time to wrap! Although we still had two weeks until Christmas, both Theresa and I made sure that we carefully wrapped our purchases that night. The day wouldn’t be complete until this was done.

I’m so grateful to Mom for the many years she took us into Boston. Back in the leaner days when money was tight and trips to McDonalds were special, that one day meant more to us than any other day leading up to the Christmas Holiday. Sure, it was a much simpler time, yet I think back to those shopping trips and realize that it was a day that flooded all five senses with Christmas. It was a day of joy—so much joy that I thought I’d explode.

These days, while the Christmas season provides much joy and much to be thankful about, Christmas shopping itself just isn’t the joy it once was. These days I battle to find a parking space, and while I have more that $35 for gifts, it seems like everything is very expensive. The crowds are not friendly (as they seemed to be when I was a kid) and everyone seems so focused on getting the things on their massive lists that no one stops to say how pretty the mall decorations are.

I did manage to get back some of the magic, though. I was at one of the local malls and followed the lengthy line to see Santa, and was amazed by the man sitting in the chair. This was no 18 year old high school student with a fake beard and pillow – this guy was looked exactly like Santa Claus. The beard was real, the twinkle in the eyes was real, the smile seemed genuine, and I was amazed at how the kids looked at him. They BELIEVED.

I walked over to the guy who was keeping the line together, and whispered, “Where did you find Santa? The guy is perfect!” The mall worker smiled and whispered back, “They say he’s the real deal, right from the North Pole.” I looked again at Santa and those kids, and the magic of that moment, and I remembered what it was like to be a kid again. The magic was back. I’d still have to deal with traffic and crowds and lists and credit cards, but somehow the hassles didn’t seems so bad as they had a few minutes before. It sounds funny, but it seems like even adults can still get presents from Santa. You just have to believe!

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