December 8, 2006
If your newspaper is like ours in Chicago, you’ve probably been reading about the resumption of the “Christmas wars,” with battling letter writers —some who are declaring a boycott on stores that don’t proclaim “Merry Christmas!” on their bags and boxes and others who defend the so-called secular greeting “Happy Holidays!”
I have no illusions about brokering a truce, but I do want to tell you about the store where I worked last night as manager. It’s for children who come with their parents to select everything they need for school—from boots to jeans to coats with hoods. There’s no cost to the families. There’s no pay for the clerks.
This store is the Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association, started 75 years ago, in the depths of the Great Depression, because teachers noticed that some students were coming to school only every other day or even every third day. The realized that children in a family were taking turns, wearing the same coat or the same pair of shoes. So, determining that “no child shall miss a day of school for want of good, sturdy clothing,” teachers and parents combined efforts to provide the mix of hand-me-downs and new items, money and volunteer hours that still succeeds in sending children off with bags filled to the brim—some 700 last year.
These bags are big and clear plastic. Their only mark is the child’s name, penned in black on a sticky label.
The clerks—volunteers who also have kids in our schools or did, once—come from as many different backgrounds, as do the families they serve. Last night the mix included a Hispanic couple who helped a mom who spoke only Spanish outfit her three sons, a woman with a Star of David pendant around her neck and a few young parents, first-time volunteers whose own kids are just starting in school. And there were three others like me, people with adult children who just keep working because they want to stay in touch with our school families.
As 9 p.m. drew near and the big bags bulged, there were hugs exchanged and wishes for “Happy Holidays!” A good night, I thought, as I locked up and then drove home down streets lined with houses decorated with lights, bright on the snowy bushes.
The glow still was with me when I woke up, and it dawned on me—holidays...holy days.
What if the disgruntled letter writers also remembered the “holy” root of “holidays”? What better wish could anyone make for another than that his or her holy day be a blessing? What better blessing could we receive from another, of our own faith or another?
And, for Christians, what better way to observe our holy holiday of Christmas than to serve as Jesus—in the parable recorded in Matthew 25—told his followers to, that when they “gave clothing” to “the least of these who are members of my family” they clothed him?