Christmases past in the United States were always a wild slip-and-slide through endless seasonal tasks, and each year, I secretly wished for a simpler celebration. I should have remembered the sage advice a friend once gave me, “Be careful what you wish for,” because one year, as Christmas present began to take shape, I found myself yearning for the those crazy old times.
In our anchorage off tiny Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, I merrily listened to Christmas tunes from a St. Croix radio station. I unfolded and decorated our nine-inch boat tree. Our stockings, that list all the places we’ve spent Christmas for the past twenty years, were hung on a bulkhead with care. A dinghy darted past with Santa in it but it turned out the fellow with the red hat was wearing the wrong kind of suit.
On shore, little to nothing gave any indication that the holiday was upon us. No trees, no lights, no crowds of shoppers. No place to buy wrapping paper or a roll of ribbon. I even walked down to Corsairs Restaurant in search of the Pirate Santa I’d seen there the year before, only to find the place closed. Either we were in Scroogeville or the Grinch got there first.
Then I saw the sign announcing the annual Christmas concert featuring the school children of Jost Van Dyke. The date, December 7; the venue, the upstairs veranda of Foxy’s Tamarind Bar. Donations welcome. Holiday food and refreshments during intermission. I gleefully rowed back to the boat and saved the date.
The day of the concert, I arrived early as the children drifted in wearing starched white shirts, black pants or skirts and red ties or bow ties. I took my seat next to proud parents who, like me, held cameras in their hands. A keyboard player warmed up and a couple of men fiddled with lights as microphones were tested and adjusted. Finally, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” filled the air as the kids came singing, smiling, one-by-one up the stairs. The program, 20 performances long, was a wonderful tribute to the true meaning of Christmas. Through songs, speeches, acting and reading, they spread the word of love and peace.
If there was a dry eye in the audience, it certainly wasn’t mine. As a teacher and a parent, I’ve been to dozens of Christmas programs but never did one touch me so well. Maybe it was the look in the eyes of children who have so little but appreciate so much; maybe it was the crazy state of our world or perhaps the hope we all cling to. Maybe it was Christmas.
Whatever it was, I hope it finds you this year and in all your Christmases future.