While decorated with tinsel, lights and a minimally ornamented tree, the community centre’s immense cement gymnasium was void of festive spirit. Located in a poor area of town, the center was holding their obligatory outreach Christmas party that was exactly that- obligatory.
All the boxes were check off: sufficient if uninspired food, couple of children’s games, and before everyone goes home, Santa with his pack of donated gifts. Merchants provided these unwrapped gifts, frequently toys that did not sell well and could be written off as a charity donation. The staff plastered on smiles but the plain white thin paper plates, white napkins and flimsy forks were symbolic of no one’s care to purchase more expensive festive settings.
Half of the immense gym was left empty, cornered off for restless children to release their excess energy. Having eaten their meager portion of sandwiches sitting at white butcher paper covered tables – no turkey dinner here- they were awaiting Santa’s arrival. Until then, there was little to do as their parents ate their allotted sugar cookies and sips of weak coffee.
Several times children barely missed skidding into a large keyboard. It sat on the gym floor beneath the overhead basketball hoop unprotected by an elevated stage, and surrounded by large speakers and several taped down cables. After a running child tripped over a floor cable and smashed their face into the hardwood floor a staff member monitored the area.
Amidst this din of noisy adults talking and screaming children, a nine-year boy stepped, holding a guitar as he approached the keyboard. As he began to strum, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, his eight year old brother stepped up to the keyboard. Even when they started singing, no one paid them any attention.
His head set solitary microphone failed to sufficiently magnify his voice, the music smothered by the vacant space of the gym’s forty foot high ceiling.
Clearly they weren’t handing out presents, and the children only wanted Santa. Parents looked, but they only wanted to hurry home with toy ladened children.
The determined young boys continued with traditional carols like Silent Night, maintaining their entertainment composure faced with this uninterested audience.
One young curious child finally passed by close enough hear them. At last, the boys had an audience. They poured their performance into this solitary listener. Before long, a crowd of children stood in front of them.
Shifting from Christmas traditional tunes, they explained they were going to do a guessing game of: What is this song?
The first beginning bars were not notes but a sound:
Thumpty, thump thump
And all the children sang out :
Look at Frosty go!
The growing crowd of children sat on the floor in a semi- circle.
The young guitarist stood within this captivated circle of upturned sparkling eyes, moving from classic children’s songs to Christmas songs.
The children listened and laughed, when one after another they guessed each successive tune.
With a quick look to his partner, the keyboard chords shifted, and he began to sing the most famous song of all:
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would say it glows.”
“Like a light bulb“, pipped up a perky voice from the keyboard.
The children were entranced by their ongoing parody.
The din of talking adults declined.
With an ever so slight bow , the young entertainers moved quickly away from the keyboard, passing along the gym wall where well wishers greeted them with smiling faces.
I forced myself not embarrass those boys by hugging them as they went by me.
I was so proud of my sons.
We’s been preparing for Christmas events like this one since November 1.
Hours of rehearsal in our small living room had not prepared them for the dreary unforgiving gym nor the insulting ignoring crowd. And yet, they had kept going, pushing passed the closed barrier of indifference until one child was reached.
That community centre was just one of several places we’d arranged for them to play. But, it will always remain the one I most fondly recall.
For me, each year, I listen and sing along to that simple song Frosty the Snowman to start my Christmas spirit. It reminds me that bringing joyful warm wishes during the Christmas season really is simple.
It simply requires an act of determination to create the Spirit of Christmas, anywhere.