Column – IW, Surry still remember reason for the season

Published 8:09 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Now that dumpsters are chock full of gift boxes, Styrofoam packaging and other detritus of Christmas Day, we can move on, putting our most celebrated — and commercialized — holiday in the rearview mirror for another year. 

Next up, waiting for the ball (or is it the penny?) to drop and thus begin another year.

Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of a week off from school, abbreviated days of work for some and a chance to possibly think more soberly about the credit card bill that will arrive shortly.

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And what a relief, because it’s been a long holiday season. Christmas celebrations, i.e., the retail sales that now largely define what used to be a bit more religion-focused observance, now begin before Thanksgiving, and roar on to the final, frenzied days just before Christmas. That’s the only way of possibly beating last year’s sales numbers.

Before this gets too cynical, though, let me say that across the country and around the world, Christians continue to keep the faith with their Christmas observances. 

Here at home, churches in Isle of Wight and Surry have held traditional nativity plays, cantatas, candlelight services and other events focused on the season. Many of them have been listed in this newspaper’s Community Calendar in recent weeks. 

Food, clothing and toy drives for our less fortunate neighbors have helped tap the very real desire to help others that the season engenders. All in all, the spirit of God’s ultimate gift of his son to mankind has managed to remain at the heart of the season for many in our community.

Still, there’s that recurring feeling that we’re caught up in the commercial drive that increasingly defines “the season.” 

While it’s important to evaluate our personal feelings about Christmas, we shouldn’t feel terribly guilty, because the commercialization of this religious observance didn’t happen on our watch. It began at least a century and a half ago as modern industry, freed from the necessity of churning out weapons of destruction during our nation’s tragic Civil War, began turning its attention to more pleasurable endeavors.

The assembly lines made possible by steam engines, and later electricity, enabled the construction of toys for children, appliances for mothers and farm tools for fathers. The Victorian Era coincidentally introduced our modern ideas surrounding the jolly elf we know as Santa Claus.

It was only a matter of time before the nation’s great mail order giant, Sears Roebuck, began sending its catalogs into the nation’s homes. Some of us are old enough to remember the excitement that came with the late summer or early fall arrival of the Sears Wish Book — always in plenty of time for gifts to be ordered and delivered before Christmas. 

It was our version of Amazon and we loved it.

The season was enhanced, of course, by a visit to a large department store’s toy section and, perhaps, a visit with Santa himself. I never knew anyone who visited Santa in New York’s Macy’s, but Virginia had Miller and Rhoads in downtown Richmond, complete with elaborate automaton elves working away in its display windows, and the “real” Santa up on the seventh floor. 

Miller and Rhoads’ Santa was so popular that, when the store closed in 1990, a victim of the decline of the department store era, he was offered a permanent seasonal home at the Children’s Museum on West Broad Street.

There’s nothing wrong with the myth of Santa Claus so long as we give it proper weight. The challenge has always been, and is now, keeping things in perspective, constantly reminding ourselves that the magic of flying reindeer is nothing compared to the miracle of the manger. I think we’ve done a pretty job of that in our community.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is