Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Mystic merry Toyland,
Once you pass it’s borders,
You can never return again.
As a very small child I attended church with my family, at our Lady of Good Counsel parish, in Detroit; not far from City Airport. Back then I didn't count down the days until Christmas on a calendar, but, rather, by how many candles were lit on the Advent Wreath at our church each week. The church itself was swathed in purple, and I think, perhaps, that is where my love for that color first originated from. I think that color is intertwined in my memory, with the feelings of hope and anticipation that I associated with those special days, when throughout the church the melodic notes from the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," echoed, in my ears.
A trip downtown to visit Santa at the J.L. Hudson Department store was also, an important component, of the Christmas experience. First arriving downtown, intrigued by all its "big city" hustle and bustle, and then circling the block to look at all the holiday fantasies, supplied for the public to view, in each and every window of that grand old store. If that in itself wasn't exciting enough, it was followed by an elevator or an escalator ride up to see Santa. The store's lights twinkled, and Christmas magic accompanied us on every floor that we passed. Children were ushered over to sit on Santa's lap by one of his helpers, then once seated we would politely make our requests for the one or two toys that we had so carefully selected.
Each year there would be at least one night, when, under a darkened winter sky and the swirl of gently falling snowflakes, we would jump into our car to go out to look at Christmas lights together. In the case of my family, that usually meant a drive alongside Jefferson Avenue, in Grosse Pointe, that aristocratic suburb, that neighbored our Detroit city borderline. The mansions, wrapped in their elaborate Christmas packaging, were sure to inspire many "ohhhh's and ahhhh's" as we peered out of our car windows, before making our way back home to our more, humble dwelling. Finally, on Christmas Eve my siblings and I would wait in the basement to hear our doorbell ring, and then to hear Santa's heavy footfall, as he left our house. At last with great joy, we would bound up the stairs to savor the moments of gift-giving, and for us the giving was truly equal to the receiving. The following day was the important one though, for at mass we celebrated the birth of the newborn King, and even as very small children we understood that this was, for our family, the real "reason for the season."
All of those memories began to fade into the distance though, and for many years I feared that I would never experience them again. Then a few years ago, my sister invited our family to join hers, as we attended Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, in Greektown. Dressed in our Christmas best we made the drive from Romeo, and a little bit of that old joy came back when I saw the first twinkle of Christmas lights downtown. It was when we entered Old St. Mary's though, to celebrate the 5:30 mass that Christmas Eve, that I was truly transported back, once again, to that magical place that was the Christmas I remembered from my past. The altar was resplendent, with towering Christmas trees adorned in sparkling, white lights and shimmering, iridescent tinsel. As a breeze would stir the tinsel, each strand would reflect the gold from off the altar, making the trees take on an air of quiet, Christmas majesty. The entire expanse of the altar was covered with beautiful red poinsettias, and as I took it all in my eyes opened wide with childlike wonder. Soon the trumpets sounded, heralding in all the hopes of this special day, and with them, my love for the season was finally restored. A sense of peace settled upon me as I listened to the mass, and it remained with me long into the new year, whenever I thought back about my visit to Old St. Mary's. My sister's kind invitation had given me the one gift money can't buy; she gave me back the Christmas I remembered, so fondly from my youth.
To all of you, whatever your beliefs may be, may this holiday season and the new year that follows it, be one of peace and tranquility....and of joy equaled only to that of your fondest childhood memories.