For most of my life I have been a Christmas shopping procrastinator, not anymore!

I used to wait until the last possible moment, enjoying the rush and the panic of realizing that I only had minutes before the last stores closed on Christmas Eve and that I was not even half way through my list.

Some how I usually made my way through it, often giving more apologies than gifts until I eventually realized one year not too long ago, that I was getting tired of the last minute scramble, and that sometimes the best gifts were the simplest, easiest to find, and often least expensive, yet most meaningful — things that we all too often take for granted, assuming that they will not be appreciated or even wanted.

Wrong!

Over the years I have watched fads come and go; seen one year’s “hot” gadgets and toys become trash within weeks if not days after the thrill has worn off with the wrapping paper.

I have looked around at some of the gifts I have been given, and some of the most precious are still around; they are books and clothes. I have read and re-read all of the books, some of the clothes still fit, but most of the gadgets I have received over the years are worn out, broken or functionally irrelevant now.

The several hundred neckties I have collected seem to come in and out of fashion, so I rarely throw any of them away. A few have actually made their way back to the front of the tie-rack as their width and designs have climbed back into fashion. I am still waiting for paisley to make its way around again, though I doubt the acetate collection will ever come back, yet I hang on to them all for sentimental reasons.

I began a few years ago to start my Christmas shopping early, buying a few things at a time throughout the year, usually in the “off-season” when the best bargains show up on the clearance racks just as the stores are clearing their shelves to make way for the next big holiday or seasonal shopping spree.

As a kid (here I go again, back to the good old daze), my sisters and I loved to page through the big Sears catalogues, picking out the toys we would put on our Christmas lists for Santa even though we knew mom and dad were doing the actual buying, not Santa.

We all belonged to something called the “Christmas Savings Club,” a tool that the schools and local banks created to encourage the practice of saving. I think we each had our own little savings accounts where we deposited our nickels and dimes all year until Christmas shopping season arrived, and then we’d take our money out and spend it on Falls Street and Main Street, buying gifts for each other, for our parents and for our special friends.

At school and at church, special collections and offerings were made for the poor and less fortunate to make sure that everybody got something for Christmas.

It made us all feel good, like we were doing something important while we were earning “grace” from God; extra points in case we were short when we got to the pearly gates.

We knew when our parents went shopping for our toys and we knew when (and sometimes where) they were hiding them, though we’d never dare to peak, yet we kept the fantasy of Santa alive with the rest of our family and playmates.

Forced to go upstairs into our bedrooms while they brought in the noisy packages we loved to listen from the top of the stairs as they fumbled their way out of the garage, into the house and into their secret hiding places, usually their huge bedroom where the giant wooden closet stayed locked all the time.

That old closet was huge, built by hand by some old German friend of my Dad’s, lined with cedar; it had a delicious aroma which mixed magically with the sweet scent of my father’s perpetually lit pipe.

On those rare days when we might have the pleasure of being in my parent’s bedroom when the big closet was unlocked, it provided a great place to duck during our constant games of hide and seek even though it was generally and strictly considered “off limits”.

Our strong religious beliefs also tempered our attributions to Santa, Rudolph and the elves with the clear understanding of the reason for the season; Christmas Eve was always spent at Midnight Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary followed by the traditional setting out of cookies and milk for Santa (dad) before we went to bed in the wee morning hours with visions of sugar plums (not really, we had no idea what a sugar plum was) and Sears toys dancing in our heads.

Now that I am a little older, my appreciation for the season has grown even stronger, though I have little desire for anything in the Sears catalogues anymore, and there is no more room for another necktie on my crowded rack (there’s always room for another book!), but I do have a wish list that I want to share with all of you.

In this terribly tight economy it will be very difficult indeed for many families to keep the Christmas Spirit alive for the children. Money is harder and harder to come by, so I am asking that we all dig a little deeper this year to help out as best we can.

The annual Firefighters Christmas Toy Fund drive is under way, and the Salvation Army bell ringers will be out there in full force shortly. Give all you can. Let’s give the children something for Christmas even if all you can do is drop a dollar or two in the bucket; do it!

That small change adds up.

You can help in other ways too. Some of the schools here are what we call “Uniform Schools.” The children are supposed to wear uniforms, but some families cannot afford them. In some cases, some children do not even have parents who could shop for the uniforms even if they had the money.

You can give anonymously.

Niagara Street School is one of them, and Principal Pierce would love to be able to hand out the very inexpensive uniform shirts to those who don’t have them.

Give her a call at the school: 278-5861. She’ll be happy to hear from you, and you’ll be glad you called.

Contact Bill Bradberry at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com.

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