Christmas just ain’t Christmas without the ones you love.
You old-school music fans will notice I made the word “one” plural in the line from that R&B song from the O’Jays that so popular back in the day. In fact, it just wasn’t Christmas in my old neighborhood, the Goula, without hearing that song each year, along with a couple of others. My favorite was, “What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?” That one always made me cry.
Anyway, just like with Thanksgiving, our Christmas season has been soiled by the novel coronavirus. I was hoping to spend the holidays this year with my friends – family, really – in Los Angeles. I even turned down an offer to spend Thanksgiving holiday with my cousin in San Antonio. But I’m not traveling much this year, even debating if I should visit my mother’s sister in Leakesville, my last living aunt. It’s not because I’m worried about myself, but about her.
We’re all dialing back the family visiting aspect of the holidays, keeping socially distant, staying away from large social gatherings, even with those loved ones outside our daily social bubbles.
The annual office Christmas party? Not in 2020. It’s taking pace on Zoom this year. Oh, what a drag. Don’t you miss the old days when we didn’t have to worry about all this stuff? I know I do.
Growing up in Hattiesburg’s Goula neighborhood, Christmas couldn’t come fast enough. When we were kids, it felt like it took forever for Christmas to get here. But boy, was it ever worth the wait! There was so much fun leading up to the big day, beginning with the spectacular Christmas decorations in downtown.
Downtown’s streetlamps, adorned with tinsel and twinkle lights, seemed to march down Pine Street leading up to the big show at Pine’s intersection with Main Street. There, a huge gold Christmas tree was suspended over the intersection. It wasn’t Christmas without it!
Of course, the big event of the season, besides the holiday itself, was our annual Christmas parade. From the Goula, north of Bouie Street, it was a short walk for us to downtown. My favorite spot to watch the parade was from in front of the Forrest County Courthouse. Lots of people would sit on the courthouse steps to watch, but we kids knew better. Standing on the street side, you’d get a better shot at grabbing some of the penny-candy thrown from the floats into our waiting hands.
Just a few blocks from downtown, we were counting down the days until Christmas at Eureka Elementary School. We’d get two weeks off from school, all the way up to the day after New Year’s Day. How could we not look forward to that, huh? Of course, there was also the classroom Christmas party. Each student had drawn names to see which classmate you’d buy a Christmas present. That would mean a trip to Woolworth’s, Kress or the Ben Franklin store downtown to buy that present.
Back then, going downtown was our version of going to the mall, only more fun. The five-and-dime stores on Main and Pine streets were one thing, but the main attraction was at Sears. Toyland! Not only would Santa be there, but we could see, in person, all of the toys we’d dreamed about getting for Christmas, the ones we’d seen packed onto the pages of Sears annual Wish Book. My siblings and I would have worn that catalog down to scrap paper by Christmas Day.
At our house, we had one of those tinsel Christmas trees. You remember the ones, their “branches” looked like shredded aluminum foil. A slowly revolving color wheel changed the tree’s color as it spun from red, to green, to blue. Stacked beneath the tree would be presents for family members, but those didn’t matter (probably just socks and underwear) as much as what Santa would be dropping off at our house on Fairley Street.
By the time Christmas Eve arrived, none of us could sleep, eagerly anticipating the arrival of that jolly guy in the red suit. I’m betting at one Christmas or another everybody got a bicycle. The streets in the Goula, from Fairley to Ninth Streets, would be filled with shiny new bicycles on Christmas mornings. Most often they’d be Western Flyers purchased at one of the Western Auto stores in Hattiesburg or Petal. Yes, I got a bicycle, but my other favorites were board games like Monopoly and The Game of Life.
As I got older, the joy of Christmas was much more about giving than receiving. When I lived in Los Angeles, I looked forward to Christmas for another reason. It was not about getting out of school for two weeks; it was about getting to come home to Hattiesburg for two weeks to visit my folks. Ahead of my arrival, I’d ship boxes of goodies home via FedEx for family and friends. Sadly, some of those loved ones have gone on to heaven now, including my parents.
Missing my friends and family who’ve now taken up residence in heaven, I’m also thinking about the more than 300,000 of our fellow Americans who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19. I’m thinking about the family members they’ve left behind. There will be empty chairs at many American Christmas dinner tables this year, including in my own family … which brings me back to the words I began this story with, “Christmas just ain’t Christmas, without the ones you love.”
All I want for Christmas this year is to see us turn the curve on COVID-19. Thank God for guiding the hands of our nation’s and the world’s scientists, the vaccines have arrived. I’ll be in line at Walgreens for that shot when my turn arrives. Will you?
God is about to bless us with a brand-new year.
Be smart and stay safe so when Christmas 2021 arrives you’ll be here to wrap your arms around those special people in your life … you know, the ones you love.
Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.