Being 82 years old, I have experienced many great Christmases living in a number of locations. I agree with most that Christmas has become too commercialized, which takes away from the real meaning of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of “King Jesus.” This being true, I don’t believe we should blame this on the fantasy of Santa Claus, who has played a wonderful part in most of the population of this country. I really don’t think Santa Claus has had a detrimental effect on my life or in my Christian beliefs. Therefore, I am going to tell you about some of my most cherished Christmas experiences.
The first Christmas that I can remember was that my mom caught me trying to locate the toys she had bought for my Santa Claus gifts. I was probably 5 years old and was curious about whether the fantasy of Santa Claus was true. My older siblings had told me it was all a fairytale, but I was afraid to ask. One day I was searching through the closets and found one of the items. On that day, my Christmas morning surprises went away, and the magic of Santa was gone.
My first adult experience with Santa Claus was in 1956 at Brize Norton Royal Air Force Base in England. My squadron, the 30th SSDS, volunteered to help the Mother Superior at an orphanage in Cheltenham with preparing for Christmas. The city was about 25 miles away, and each night in early December, a number of us loaded onto a large truck and traveled to the orphanage to repair the furniture, painting and doing whatever the Mother Superior requested. At Christmas, the event culminated with a party with loads of ice cream, cake and candy. Most of the squadron volunteered to bring a gift for one of the children. One of the sergeants was Santa Claus (Father Christmas to the children). I had never seen such joy in the children. Most of the children had never received a gift, but they fell in love with the tradition.
This same event was repeated in 1957 and again at Chateauroux Air Force Base in France in 1958, where I was then stationed. For those who have never served in the military, I can tell you that each year, Army, Air Force, Marine and Navy bases around the world have similar festivities for children in nearby villages and cities. Christmas is the one time a year we give because God first sent his son.
Not very long after Barbara and I were married in 1959, we had our first child, Donald, and that started many wonderful Christmas eves making final preparations for Christmas morning. I couldn’t tell you who was more excited, our kids or Barbara and me. For the first 10 years of marriage, we were stationed close enough to share the enjoyment with Barbara’s mother and dad and her brother and family who were there for combined Christmas mornings. Those were quite wild, but in most instances, the children shared and shared alike.
Our family spent four Christmases in Hawaii. Yes, it was very different, but easy to adapt and continue with our normal Christmas activities. One special Christmas Eve was when our oldest son invited a Jewish friend to sleep over on Christmas Eve night. We were hesitant, but the young man wanted to experience a Christian Christmas. The boys were teenagers, and our youngest, Steven, was still trying to hold on to believing in Santa Claus. I don’t think they ever went to sleep — were up early — woke Steve — and Christmas morning began. They played with Steve’s toys as if they were their own. Many years later, we learned that Alan, the young man, had become a Christian. I have often wondered if that sleep over made a difference in his decision.
The last Christmas I am going to mention was in 2005, when our mission team assisted a church in distributing Operation Christmas Child boxes in South Africa. These were boxes collected in 2004 and arrived in South Africa in May 2005. We were able to share the Gospel with at least 5,000 children at schools we visited.
I have never seen more joy as we told them about Jesus and presented them with boxes of goodies. One child said, “I must be dreaming, I must be dreaming.” I wonder if that last Christmas was not the best I ever experienced.