For me, the holidays have always stood for happiness, family, celebrations and appreciation of the old home town. In view of the horrific events that continue to plague our nation, now more than ever, we take comfort in finding solace in remembering Christmases of years past when the entire world seemed more joined together and less bent on trying to destroy what we know, love and appreciate as the United States of America.

          True, Monroe is a small blip on the radar screen but what we hear daily on news reports as to mass killings, bombings and “gun control” out of control, makes us yearn for, if only in memory, those olden times of yore when fear was non-existent and celebrating Christmas was a time of joy, peace, thrills and excitement.

          The only semblance of holiday spirit I can conjure up this year comes from remembering Christmases of years gone by when we all lived in a less hectic pace and friends, family, church and town were predominant in our hearts and minds. And in remembering this I want to recant some of the enjoyable Monroe settings of old which bring comfort to me at this particular Christmas season.

          Memories of those long gone years reflect on what fun it was to gather in the family car and ride around Monroe after dark looking at the festive decorations which seemed to adorn each house on every street.  Our parents didn’t have to be on the lookout for drunk drivers or a myriad of traffic that hindered our leisurely rides from street to street and the decorations could be enjoyed by everyone in the car.

The arrival of the Christmas tree truly marked the beginning of the season for many of us.  In those days we depended on our farming friends to supply us with fresh cut trees from their property and many times delivered to our houses.  Getting the tree in the house and decorated was the high point of the weeks leading up to Christmas Day.

Further into the Christmas season one of the highlights was the eagerly anticipated “live” nativity scenes sponsored by various churches around town which would cause a minor traffic snarl as almost everyone wanted to ride by the churches to see the manger, the animals, the wise men, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. I can remember the First Baptist Church’s nativity scene with Christmas music being played across town from the old tower bringing excitement and joy to most of Monroe.

          There were the various Christmas programs at many of the churches where music of the season was offered up by the church choirs, accompanied by organ & piano. Many sanctuaries were festive with many Poinsettia’s on display adding a further touch of the joyousness of the season.

          And who could forget the choirs from various churches riding around town on flatbed trucks going from one neighborhood to the next serenading the residents with robust carols and hymns adding yet another festive touch of the season.

          Downtown Monroe was a special place for us back then as we knew all of the stores and who owned them and decorations in the department stores, the drug stores, the grocery stores all had the glitz and glitter of approaching Christmas giving all of us that high of anticipation as we scurried from store to store, lugging bag after bag of brightly wrapped packages to the trunk of the car and scurrying back down the sidewalk to yet more stores, the shopping it seemed never ending.

For me, one of the joys of the season was going to the post office to find our mailbox packed full of Christmas cards from family and friends.

And the students, in high school and college got a reprieve from studies eagerly looking forward to being home with family and friends along with helping decorate the trees and wrapping packages to go with those already wrapped under the tree causing more excitement and anticipation wondering what was contained under those wrappings.

          Parties, dances and other gatherings took up many evenings as we expressed our feelings to friends and family when libations and emotions ran high and it was okay to shed a tear or two because “tis’ the season”.

          Oh, and lets not forget those trips to Atlanta on chilly days to see the windows at Sears, Rich’s and Davison’s giving us enough Christmas joy to last many lifetimes?  The excitement of seeing Santa at Rich’s or Davison’s or riding Rich’s Pink Pig before sitting on Santa’s knee to whisper what we wanted him to bring us on Christmas Eve.  And a quick stop on the way home at Krispy Kreme for those sinfully delicious doughnuts added another memory to add to our store of Christmas treasures.

          Remember looking up in the branches of the trees in hopes of spotting mistletoe to bundle together and place in strategic areas in hopes of getting a smooch from a special person?

Who could forget the wonderful old Santa Claus’s in the windows of Aycock’s and Gallant Belk’s reminding us to make sure our fireplaces  were as clean as possible and there were no deterrents from his making a safe landing in our living rooms once he was in the chimney.  And we ALWAYS left some goodies for him since this was the busiest night of the year for him.  I can remember sharing home-made cookies from Mrs. Jewell Head on a plate with a bottle of Coke and a bottle opener as his time was at a premium. For the homes who didn’t have a fireplace, plans were made to ensure the front door would be unlocked for a quick and easy entrance.

          Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Bragg shared his feelings about the magic of Christmas time in the South when he said: “The Southern Christmas is rich in its traditions, its own beauties, its own recipes and notions and yes, peculiarities.  It is why no matter where we live in the world, we yearn to come home to the South as that day draws near.  It is more than a cliché, more than a song. The Southern Christmas is not the one of television advertising.  It is way better than that.”

          Combating bad news this time of year is easy; settle in on your sofa with a cup of hot cider and recall the Christmas celebrations in Monroe from years past; the excitement we felt, the memories we made, and seeing others less fortunate were remembered as the giving of yourself to others is what Christmas is all about and like magic, the spirit will again be with you.

          All said and done, my Monroe Christmas memories cannot be beat!  The memories of our bygone years wrap us in a blanket of comfort as we sit before our decorated trees listening to the carols of the season as a fire pops & crackles in the fireplace. To paraphrase an old song, “There is no place like Monroe for the holidays”, and this old fellow, my head full of memories of Christmases past, will be there in spirit!