Christopher Columbus Park Christmas - GillisPhotos.com
Christopher Columbus Park Christmas – GillisPhotos.com

by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter December 1999

Thankfully, the recent tragic fire at LaSallette Shrine didn’t prevent the annual spectacular Christmas Light display from going on as planned. I’ve made three visits there in the last few weeks — I found each visit cathartic; an antidote to the frenzied insanity of this holiday season. So much of the season becomes a great list of things to do, that somehow the idea of magic, joy and real meaning gets lost in the pile of glittery wrapping paper and credit card bills.

The crowd that night was very impressive, and I was struck by the paradox of the shell of the still-under-construction new church, against the backdrop of the recent fire damage.

And then it happened. At the Holy Stairs, a little girl, maybe ten years old, asked her mother why the people were kneeling on the stairs.

“They’re saying prayers, ” the mother responded.

“I don’t know any prayers” the little girl replied.

And I thought, “Oh … My … God … ”

“I don’t know any prayers.”

No, she probably doesn’t. But I’ll bet she knows all the Pokemon cards, the best toys of the season, and the names of every member of N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys.

Hearing that little girl’s comment bothered me because it seems like solid proof that the true meaning of Christmas isn’t just being overlooked — it isn’t even being taught anymore. It’s no secret that the Christmas season has become a battle between its true meaning and the ridiculous over-commercialization. But you know what? The true meaning has been losing for years. But in recent times, it seems like the true meaning is REALLY losing.

There are communities who protest and ban nativity sets. There are lowlifes here in town who vandalized the Saint Mary’s Christmas display recently. Politically correct offices no longer have Christmas parties — they have HOLIDAY parties.

But I decided NOT to take the cynical approach. I would start looking for examples of the true meaning of this holiday. And you know what? I found a lot of them!

At LaSallette that same night, I watched as Sue’s 10 year old cousin Georgina embraced a crucifix and gave Jesus a kiss on the cheek.

A few days later, I was assembling the Christmas Tree at Mom’s, and my three year old nephew Colin announced that “The baby wants to watch Rudolph.” He hasn’t referred to himself as a “baby” in a long time, so I was a little confused. But then I watched him take the baby Jesus from Mom’s nativity set and hold him up to the TV, so the “the baby” can watch Rudolph, too.

Here in town, Saint Mary’s Church recently assembled a “giving tree” in the lobby. On the branches were little red tags describing gifts — for example, men’s sweatshirt, woman’s blouse, and so on. You take a tag, buy the gift, and return it unwrapped. It would be delivered to the patients at Medfield State Hospital. I took a tag. So did over 400 other people! A week later, there were no tags on the tree, but an estimated 400 gifts underneath it. Lee Denesco told me that there would be probably be 600, not counting all the people who would bring gifts later.

At Saint Mark’s Church last month, I tried to count the number of people who arrived to assemble Thanksgiving food baskets for the needy. I lost count after 50. The other night, a similar sight greeted me at the Christmas food basket assembly. So many people, so happily volunteering to help others. It felt wonderful.

On a related note, at Shaws Sharon, I can’t believe how often the Foxboro Food pantry box is filled. It seems like every month the box is overflowing with donated food. Managers at Shaws have told me that some people donate full bags of food. (By the way, did you know that the food donation box was my wife’s idea? She asked Whitey Vandeboom of the Knights of Columbus if they might build a box for food drop-off. It was made using leftover materials from the “Keep Christ in Christmas” sign!)

Also this month, some very dedicated Foxboro Jaycees arrived on a cold Saturday morning and began setting up the Foxboro Common nativity set and getting the lights up in the trees. I wasn’t there, but I saw several of them the night before — they were TIRED. There are so many Jaycee activities at Christmas time, but they always come through for the community.

At the recent Foxboro Senior Center Christmas fair, the response was absolutely overwhelming. There were probably twice as many people as the previous year, and the center raised over $10,000 for the senior center, a new record.

At the South Shore Plaza last week, I witnessed the Salvation Army volunteer, not ringing a bell, but singing a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night.”

Then we read about Jacob Schmalz, a Foxboro High school senior, who will begin training to become a missionary in Bilbao Spain. For the next two years, he will spend 12 hours a day, six days a week teaching his faith to the people there. God bless him.

And of course, across the Nation we have all witnessed the outpouring of support for the families of the six heroic Worcester fire fighters. In the midst of tragedy, the inherent goodness of people comes out. There have been thousands of gestures of good will and assistance to the fire fighter’s families.

There are uncountable more examples out there.

While this time of year is like some sort of narcotic that revs up so fast we often lose sight of what’s really going on, it’s obvious that in many local examples, the Christmas spirit and its true meaning are alive and well.

You just have to look a little closer sometimes.

Merry Christmas to all!

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