Deep South Christmas

Dr. Jon R. Roebuck, Executive Director

I realize that my memories of Christmas are not your memories of Christmas.  Each of us experienced the season in special and unique ways as children.  I grew up in Rome, GA as the son of a Baptist Minister.  So, many of my memories swirl around traditions in my household and in my home church.  As I said, they are MY memories.  I spent a little time recently bringing some of those memories to mind.  It has helped me to regain a joyful perspective on the season.  Sometimes it’s good to reflect and remember.

The following is a list of some of those fond memories.  They may or may not resonate with you in any way.  Maybe something on my list will jog your memory a little.  I really encourage you to take a quiet moment in the midst of this hectic and way over-crowded season to recall a few of those special days you spent in the innocence of childhood, believing that Christmas was the best day of the year.

One of the traditions in our house revolved around an annual pilgrimage to Rich’s in downtown Atlanta.  Rich’s was THE department store in those days, rising 7 or 8 stories above the crisscrossing streets of Atlanta.  A huge tree was always paced on the top of the building.  Thousands would gather each year for the lighting of the tree.  It was a big deal.  Joining the tree on the top of the building was a monorail kid’s ride known as the Pink Pig.  For years, it circled its way around the rooftop, giving kids an up-close look at the big tree and other dazzling lights and displays.  I still remember getting a sticker on my dark blue windbreaker which proudly proclaimed that I had ridden the Pink Pig.  One of the floors in the department store was dedicated to nothing but toys.  Just walking through the maze of all those toys was a special time.

One of the local churches always presented a “live” nativity scene.  Every evening during the holiday season, families could drive by in their cars and pause for a moment to take in the scene.  The characters were always dressed in great costumes.  There were live animals as well… donkeys and sheep.  It was a little much to think that a real camel would appear and so a huge stuffed camel was propped up against the backdrop of the scene.  It was nothing short of magical.  We probably drove past at least a dozen times each year.

Long before the days of artificial, pre-lit trees, the annual trip to buy a tree was part of the tradition.  There were lots all over town.  It seems that most years we bought a tree at the YMCA lot, although at times, it seems like we got a tree at the local Piggly Wiggly.  I remember how we tied it to the roof of the brown and white Chevrolet station wagon and drove it home.  Dad would always saw off the end and screw it into the tree stand.  (It was always my job throughout the season to scoot underneath the tree and keep it watered.)  Remember those big old bulbs we used to have?  Multi-colored lights that got really hot.  Dad always lamented the task of getting the lights on the tree.  Some years we went with a spruce tree… sometimes a scotch pine.  We carefully hung the ornaments and placed the foil ice cycles on the tree.  Sometimes late at night, I would crawl under the tree and stare up at the lights.  When my brother and I got a little older, one of our Christmas traditions was gathering up all of the old discarded trees up and down the street.  We would pile them together on the curb in front of the house and light a huge bonfire.

Our local paper, The Rome New Tribune, had a tradition of placing a small cartoon on the front page to count down the days till Christmas.  Every night I would grab the paper and look for the cartoon and think, “Christmas will never get here!”

I remember ribbon candy in the dish in the living room and the huge peppermint log that Doc Elliot gave us.  We would take an icepick and chip away a piece throughout the holiday.  I remember how Mr. Donahue always brought my mother a Whitman’s Sampler and my dad a $100 bill.  I remember the Christmas parade and the decorations that adorned Broad Street.  I remember school plays and the Christmas cards that piled into our home each year.

I also think about the Christmas Eve candle-lighting service at FBC, Rome.  Every year, about 6 p.m. the service would begin and the sanctuary would fill to capacity.  There was Christmas music, solos, and the sacred lighting of the Christ candle on the Advent Wreath.  At the end of the service, weather permitting, we would stream out onto the front sidewalk and sing silent night while holding our little white candles.

I guess what I remember most of all was the emotion of the season.  I always felt loved beyond measure, blessed beyond description, and joyful beyond comprehension.

May your Christmas be filled with wonderful memories, loving friends & family, and the joy of the King’s birth.