Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Plastic Santa in His Sleigh

Every Christmas a big, smiling, plastic Santa Claus sitting in his sleigh with his reindeer hitched up and ready to go hung above the intersection of the two main streets of the downtown where I grew up. When the wind blew really hard off the river the sleigh appeared as if it was in flight. And when it was snowing many of the shoppers in a hurry slowed down to catch a glimpse of the jolly old man waving at them through the snowflakes. Looking back I believe what mattered to those rushing by was the fact that Santa and his sleigh were right where they had been for as long as most could remember. That Santa and that sleigh and those reindeer were a holiday tradition in the community.

I loved going Christmas shopping downtown. My aunt would take my cousins and me on a Saturday. We'd spend the day-having lunch at a favorite spot of all the locals. It had plastic tablecloths and big glasses of chocolate milk. Conversations were friendly. Everyone knew everyone. Families caught up with other families on who was coming home and who wasn't. My uncle owned a shoe store so after we did some shopping we'd use his store as our drop-off point when we got tired of carrying bags and boxes. Our aunt was very patient. She helped us figure out what to buy for everyone on our lists. She never had children of her own so I think we were the next best thing.

There were so many little shops and stores in that downtown. Newberrys and Woolworths were favorites. Newberrys even had an escalator. Both had great toy sections. There was one particular store that was lots of fun to shop in. Not because of the merchandise as it was mainly clothing and shoes, but because it had department after department-each connected to the next and each slanted downward so that if you started in the department with baby stuff you could actually pick up speed as you raced down through to the last department full of women's clothing and jewelry, even luggage. This is when having an aunt who was patient really came in to play! This store was also known for giving out S & H Green Stamps with every purchase. My grandmother collected the stamps all year. Just before starting her Christmas shopping she'd pack up all her books of licked-in-place green stamps and redeem them at the S & H Green Stamp Redemption Center. She did a lot of her shopping with those stamps.

While many communities still have downtowns in one form or another, they continue to compete with malls and now super malls and the new kid on the block-the internet. Convenient and a great time-saver open 24-7 right in your home making it possible for you to wear your pajamas while you shop, the internet defaces the Christmas shopper. Technology has replaced the human element of interaction with PayPal and a button to click at places such as that friendly restaurant offering plastic tablecloths and chocolate milk.  They say change is good. But tell that to the children and their children who scurried about Christmas shopping as snow fell and a smiling, plastic Santa with his sleigh and his reindeer in flight watched over them in a downtown now but a memory. After all, that was a tradition.

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