Yesterday's Magazette

Santa Doesn’t Need A Chimney

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By Sue Blue

Having experienced another 21st century Christmas, which somehow manages to mix the gorgeous with the gauche, I have begun to reflect on those long-ago childhood Christmas dreams born of the Great Depression.

I wonder what my grandparents would think of today’s malls bursting with merchandise, the downtown Christmas parade, the lighting displays, Santa arriving in a helicopter, and the traffic rushing back and forth.

Standing on my front porch now as Christmas Eve approaches, I look out on traffic jams and listen to the squeal of brakes. Rooftops are being strung with multicolored lights, fake chimneys, and inflated Santas.

Preparations for Christmas during my childhood were rather simple compared to all of this hullabaloo that transpires today. I don’t remember ever going to a store to see Santa Claus. You didn’t see Santa; you heard about him, you read about him, you sang about him. In music class at Southside Elementary we lustily warbled “Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go, up on the house top click, click, click (here we clicked our fingers and thumbs) … down through the chimney with good St. Nick”.

We all wondered about that chimney bit because most of us didn’t have chimneys. When I confided my worry about the absence of a chimney, my grandmother said, “Pshaw! Santa doesn’t need a chimney. He can walk through that front door any time he wants to.”

And that settled that.

My grandmother was a devout fruitcake lady. I can still see that frail little woman sitting in the kitchen holding a huge dishpan in her lap while stirring batter and nuts and candied fruit. After the baking, she placed the cakes, wrapped in towels, on a long table. Then she tenderly doused them with bourbon until the time came to put them in tins and transport them downtown to the post office.

These were her gifts to her brother and sisters who lived in other Florida towns and to her son, far away in Texas. Grammy never visited Texas or any other state. She stayed within the borders of Florida all of her life.

With my aunt’s candy projects, traffic picked up in the kitchen . She concocted divine divinity tinted with red and green food coloring that she placed in wax paper bags tied with ribbons. These were gifts for her fellow schoolteachers.

At school, gifts were exchanged and we sang carols. Back then, classrooms were allowed to have Christmas trees furnished by parents who had access to treed land. Often these trees were scratchy, scrubby southern pines. But that didn’t matter. After decorating them with chains made of red and green construction paper, they looked beautiful to us.

We never had to buy a tree because when the school holidays began the tree from my aunt’s sixth grade classroom was loaded into her car for the ride to our house.

One Saturday afternoon before Christmas, my mother would take my sister and me to a department store on Main Street. The shelves in the store stretched from floor to ceiling and were filled with dolls. My sister and I would gaze at each one until we found that special doll we wanted Santa to bring us. In those years when I believed faithfully in Santa’s existence, I wondered sometimes how my mother made sure Santa delivered exactly the dolls we had chosen.

Christmas presents were opened immediately after Santa’s Christmas Eve visit. I’m not sure how old I was when I became part of the adult conspiracy that kept the fable of Santa alive for my little sister, but I do recall reading Christmas stories to her rather loudly and quite dramatically to cover the tussle and bustle going on in the living room as “Santa” arranged the toys and the obligatory Christmas underwear around the tree.

My grandmother would call out, “My stars! Look at that!” and my mother would open the bedroom door smiling and say, “I think someone’s been here.” Then we would jump out of bed and run into the living room. We didn’t scream at the sight of the wished-for dolls and toys and mysterious packages . Instead, we whispered, as if fearful that too loud a tone would whisk away those Christmas dreams-come-true.

Christmas Day was always sunny. My aunt started the morning festivities by placing a bright red strawberry from my grandfather’s berry patch in the center of each grapefruit half as the eating part of Christmas began. We never had a turkey for dinner. The main course was a roast chicken that had recently inhabited the back yard hen house. There were all kinds of vegetables from the garden and cornbread dressing. We concluded the meal with a piece of Grammy’s fruitcake and a dessert bowl of my aunt’s ambrosia made from oranges and grapefruit plucked just outside the back door.

Sometime during the day, there was a picture-taking session. We had no cameras with indoor photography capabilities; just my mother’s little green box Kodak. The tree, dripping icicles and needles, was hauled out to the front walk where my sister and I posed with our presents. I have snapshots of us sitting on shiny tricycles. Other pictures from another Christmas captures the delighted grin on my sister’s face as she holds up a doll that’s nearly as tall as she while I gaze at my new acquisition: a Shirley Temple doll.

We survived the Great Depression and many Christmas Days have come and gone since then. In this 21st century, I returned to my childhood home. The memories are intense, clearly defined, and filled with love. I can still walk on those Southern pine floors, swing on the front porch swing, and step out onto the front walk where we had taken those pictures many years ago.

Now as I place miniature golden globes on a tiny tabletop artificial tree, I think, “Grammy was right. Santa doesn’t need a chimney. He can walk through that front door any time he wants to.”

*Suzette Jennings (Sue Blue) grew up in Sarasota, FL; a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, appeared in many productions in New York and St. Louis, MO. She taught theatre in a St. Louis private school for over 30 years. Upon retirement, she came home to Sarasota where she works as an administrative assistant for an Episcopal Church, edits the Historical Society newsletter, and writes “memory essays” like this.

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2 Comments »

  1. Hi Sue…Great going! Having been on your front porch and inside your historic home, I too can feel Santa’s presence. Thanks for sharing the meaning of an old Florida Christmas. Have a Merry One! Larry Kelleher

    Comment by Larry Kelleher — December 11, 2007 @ 8:42 am | Reply

  2. Beautiful picture of the past which I share in time, my own being similar in simplicity and happiness despite the Depression. Mine was in a colder, less verdant spot in winter – Missouri. I love the picture of warm, fruitful Florida so well presented by Sue Blue. Write some more about it, please! Merry Christmas Margot Borgo

    Comment by Margot Borgo — December 11, 2007 @ 5:18 pm | Reply


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