by Rena Flannigan
Have you been Naughty or Nice all year? This is what Santa might ask if he was able to speak with you. You should be asleep when he arrives, no spying. He won’t have time to stop in any case, only long enough to drink the milk you left out for him and eat the cookie mummy or daddy baked specially for the occasion. Santa is lucky; he gets to taste them before anyone else.
Dressed in his red suit, his long white beard flying in the wind, as Rudolf and the other reindeer pull Santa and his sleigh over rooftops, high buildings and trees around the world, just to get to your chimney. You must have been good for him to do this. Not only is it a very long night for Santa delivering the gifts but imagine him trying to get down the chimney! Good that most buildings don’t have chimneys nowadays. It is easier for Santa and he doesn’t get black from the soot. That in turn means Mrs. Claus won’t have a tough time cleaning up his suit for next Christmas when Santa and his reindeer do the flight all over again.
Rudolf loves to pull Santa’s sleigh, to see all the places The Jolly Man with the round tummy delivers presents to. Delivering presents for deserving children. Do you honestly think you deserve presents? Have you been a good student, done all your homework from school and even helped mummy at home? Do you know that Rudolf became the lead reindeer for Santa’s sleigh after being bullied by the other reindeer? Did you bully anyone at school or did anyone bully you? That is definitely not nice. Rudolf is different from the other reindeer who normally pull the sleigh, he has a red nose. The others laughed at him and teased him so much. Santa thought with his red nose Rudolf was the perfect animal to lead the sleigh, his red nose would light the way in the dark as they flew from country to country. Rudolf was very happy and proud to be such a help to Santa.
Probably you live in a house where there is central heating and no chimney but years ago, homes had many chimneys on the rooftops. Smoke would belch out of them from coal burning in the fireplace. This coal was very dirty and heavy; it had to be brought to the fireside in a coalscuttle to keep the fire stoked and generating heat. While it was burning, the smoke was overpowering the clean air outside we are so concerned about today. People did not understand pollution in days past. Some chimneys were so big that little boys were sent up inside to clean the soot accumulated there. Boys as young as ten years old. Can you imagine doing such a job and being paid next to nothing for it? Can you imagine how many children died from infections in their lungs from the soot. Soot is a black powdery substance that made the men, who worked in deep mines to get the coal, and children who climbed inside the chimneys to clean them, sick. If the soot was not cleaned out, many chimneys had fires inside them; sometimes houses would be burned. It was a worrisome time to live and try to keep warm.
Do you wonder where the coal came from? Men, and boys around the age of ten, went down under the earth to dig in mines in what was known as mine shafts to get the coal. A very dangerous job where, if the walls of the shaft fell down, the miners could get trapped and often be killed. Flooding was another terrible fear so deep underground. Canary birds were taken into the shafts to sense any poisonous gases down there. When you go to the seaside and see large bodies of water for swimming, can you imagine that under all that water, men used to dig further and further out for more loads of coal? Miners wore funny little lanterns on their hats; they were filled with a substance called carbide to light the way. They were not very effective in the deep dark underground.
Christmas in the past was not nearly as good for children or families as it is today. So many families were very poor so the children got very little at Christmas. Churches were busy in those times; the faithful would go to Midnight Mass and pray for better times in their lives. Inevitably, no matter how poor they were they always made donations for children even poorer than themselves. Toys were not the first thing they wished for, instead, they would pray for good health, not to have their father or uncles killed in the mines and so on. The mothers tried to save a few coins to give the children an orange or an apple, a penny, perhaps even a few nuts in the stockings they hung by the fireside. With luck some children might get chocolate if the family could afford it. The custom was that a child would write a wish list for Santa, burn it by sending it up the chimney in the hope the wind carried the message to where Santa was in the world, that he would receive it before reaching their home. In days past it was not how much you would get under the tree but to remember the meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ.
The true meaning of Christmas recedes more and more each year, lost in so much commercialism. It is a lovely time of year with the many decorations around homes, trees covered with bright lights and baubles and high hopes of boxes wrapped in fancy coloured paper under the tree. All colourful to observe, but with so little thought to how it was in the past. Even less thought for so many people in this world who barely have food or water all year and have no idea what presents the modern child takes for granted is about. Christmas wish lists are all about computers, the latest cell phones, enormous television sets and all modern technical things. The beauty of sharing time with their family by talking to each other is lost. Today it is texting, few people play family games or sing carols as they used to. So little contact verbally even sitting in the same room as each other.
How can they really understand life when they participate in so little of it. What memories will they have or leave for those who come after them? Times in the past were dreadful but it left so many stories, songs and laughter despite hardships. The presents Santa brings will never leave such wonderful memories; things are disposable and outdated almost as fast as they are received. What a pity, some children, will never know the happiness Christmas can bring in sharing with each other or giving to someone less fortunate. OR, remembering the true meaning of CHRISTmas.
I wish you and your family a MERRY CHRISTMAS and I hope the NEW YEAR will be good to you, as I am sure you will be good to others. Remember, you must know the past to appreciate the present.