“Silver Bells, Silver Bells, It’s Christmastime in the City”
Times on the farm growing up could be very difficult, and oftentimes quite painful. I know this because my mother told me so. She was one of eight children who grew up on that farm just south of the Union County line in Lancaster, SC. She was one of eight brothers and sisters who carried her childhood trauma into adulthood due to life on that farm. But there were also times on the farm that provided pleasant memories, important life lessons, and most importantly, a faith to build upon.
“Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day”
Two of the children have since passed. The rest are now well into senior adulthood. Some of the peril and hurt they have spoken of and relayed. Some of it, they will carry with them to their grave. There are the moments when their father would physically abuse their mother for overspending the grocery budget. She would overspend the budget because she wanted the kids to have sugar and cookies, just to give them some sort of release from the hardship of life on the farm. His common response was an unearthly, “She never got a beating she didn’t deserve.”
There was the time one of the farm dogs had delivered brand new little puppies. Some of the oldest children had already married and moved out. The youngest children who remained wanted to keep the puppies. But their father had given them a deadline with which to get rid of the puppies, or give them away. When the deadline passed, he gathered the pups up into a sack, took them out behind the barn, and pummeled the bag full of pups over a rock until their yelping gave way to silence and death. “This is your fault. I told you to get rid of them dogs!” There were times when life on the farm could be heart-wrenching.
“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style. In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas”
But there were also times that would provide a revitalizing lift out of the arduous routine of the farm. One of those times was Christmas. Their mother loved Christmas. Each year, Christmas would parade its extraordinary into the lives of their ordinary, and fill their home and hearts with a hope and excitement that seemed to be unattainable at other parts of the year. Every Christmas, my grandmother would risk the threat of a drubbing, just to see that her children would know the joy of Christmas that she felt in her own heart.
For one month of the year, the smell of Christmas cookies baking would spill out of the kitchen and overtake the cruel scent of hay and cow manure. A bag of goodies or a brand new toy would be the perfect ointment to soothe their stained and callous hands, even as children. Christmas carols playing and ascending through the air would seem to lift them out the usual foul-mouthed gutter produced by their father.
“Strings of street lights, even stop lights, blink a bright red and green”
But one thing my mother spoke of most, was their annual trip to downtown Charlotte, NC to see Christmastime in the big city. She would dust them off, dress them up, pile them all in a car, and they would make their way to the city. Oh what a time! The window displays from department stores like Ivey’s were a sight to behold for such children with rural and humbling surroundings. The hustle, the bustle, the shoppers, the Christmas songs, and perhaps even a visit to Santa! It was a heavenly moment like no other when life was lifted above the ordinary of their strenuous farm. I often wonder if this was the one place where they didn’t need permission to smile, play, shout, or laugh. It had such an impact on my mother that she and some of her sisters carried on the tradition with my sister, myself, and our cousins. To this day, those Christmases going to the big city are still some of my most treasured Christmas memories. We still gather in the days before Christmas each year to honor that tradition.
“Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile, and on every street corner you’ll hear”
This is why “Silver Bells” has always been one of my mother’s favorite Christmas songs. It meant spending a day in the city at Christmastime. If only for a moment, a slight reprieve from the hardship and difficulty. A lift out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Hope, laughter, joy, and peace. Their mother, who loved Christmas so much, went to great means to see that her children had these moments. She passed that love for Christmas on to my mother. My mother passed it on to me.
My grandmother died of a failing and broken heart long before I was ever born. I so wish that I could have taken one of those trips to see Christmas in the city with her. More than that, I so wish she was here to take a trip to see the Christmas In The City Production that I get to be part of with so many others each year.
She would not be surprised to find that it gives people a lift out of their painful experience. A lift out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Hope, laughter, joy, peace, and most importantly of all, a reminder of what was most important to her…faith and trust in Jesus, even when the world seems to be pummeling you into bruises.
“Silver Bells, Silver Bells, It’s Christmastime in the City”
That’s what happened each year when a bunch of farm kids made their way to see Christmas in the city. You didn’t need permission to laugh, shout, or be joyful for a bit, even in spite of what you may be going back to when it was over. But you were changed. And whether they are part of the cast or the audience, the same is true for every person who makes their way to the Christmas In The City Production and experiences it. Laughter, joy, hope, even a few tears, but for sure…we’re better for it.
And yes, for all who have ever asked the question, that’s where I got the name, and that’s why we pour so much into it. Because there are still quite a few people longing for a trip off the farm of brokenness to hope, even if for a moment. Thanks to all who have ever made the trip with me.