Christmas Past, Present, and Future
December 17, 2020
“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” – A Charlie Brown Christmas
With snowflakes falling, the smell of freshly-baked cookies fills the air, and children are already counting down the days until Christmas Eve. Back home on Santa Catalina’s campus, the Lower & Middle School teachers have decorated their classrooms so that students attending school in-person or virtually are filled with excitement at the prospect of preparing for the holidays if they haven’t already donned their favorite Christmas sweater. In 2020, the focus on yearly holiday traditions has shifted due to the adaptations society has undergone in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While most current students are used to experiencing aspects of the holidays digitally, from showing their holiday preparations via social media to shopping for decorations online, this year, students have the chance to experience how their great or great-great-grandparents celebrated Christmas at home with a small handful of loved ones.
During past Christmas seasons in a pre-COVID-19 world, many Catalina students were used to donning Mom’s chosen outfits for the annual family Christmas card. Little kids cherished visiting Del Monte Shopping Center to see Santa Claus, driving by Candy Cane Lane in Pacific Grove to gaze at houses decorated with lights and wondrous Christmas figurines, and buying hot chocolate heaped with whipped cream at their local coffee shop of choice. During a normal year, the Maintenance Department on Catalina’s campus would hang Christmas lights in the trees, and Study Hall would quickly fill with Christmas music as everyone launched into the controlled chaos of campus life in the month of December. The heart of Santa Catalina’s community would truly beat to the drum of “Jingle Bells;” the entire campus would buzz with life as parents, teachers, faculty, and students raced to complete their to-do lists before the Christmas break.
Reflecting on the present, the Santa Catalina community is amping up to celebrate the holidays in true Catalina fashion. Whether through a virtual Hanukkah event hosted by the Jewish Culture Club or a holiday-themed Kahoot during Assembly, the spirit of Christmas remains palpable in the hearts of Catalina students. This Christmas, students prepare to show off their “ugly” Christmas sweaters from home as people around the world create new ways to celebrate with others, near and far. In New York City, the lighting of the 88th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was broadcast live on NBC on December 1. Anyone and everyone could spend a few minutes watching the Christmas lights burn bright with hope and well wishes in the Big Apple. In Baltimore, the Maryland Zoo has invited guests to see their Zoo Christmas light decorations in a socially-distant format to celebrate the holidays.
As preparations continue, the debate over the best Christmas movies continues between classes as students pull out their favorite holiday films and consider whether they will start with Holiday Inn (1942) or Elf (2003) on December 1. What is it about the ever-growing list of classic Christmas movies that speaks to viewers? In 1947, a little girl named Susan questioned the credibility of Santa Claus in a Macy’s Department Store in the film Miracle on 34th Street, winning the hearts of thousands as she contemplated the concept of “believing.” In 1964, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer captivated audiences with his relatable struggle to be accepted by his classmates, fellow reindeer, in flight school. By 1993, children across the nation could relate to Jack Skellington’s wish, in A Nightmare Before Christmas, to join Santa Claus in the fun of spreading joy and cheer to children everywhere. However, the 1990 film, Home Alone, speaks to viewers differently this year as students relate to protagonist Kevin McCallister’s uncertainty concerning whether he enjoys celebrating the holidays while “home alone” or with the rest of his family in the midst of the hustle and bustle of vacationers. The circumstances of students may vary from those of these film characters; however, students in 2020 relate to the emotional pull of wanting to be part of something with their friends, classmates, and larger family this holiday season.
Furthermore, films such as The Polar Express (2004) and others illustrate the struggle many face when believing in the joy and spirit of Christmas. It is easy to want to join the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge in saying “Bah humbug” to the entire month of advertised jolly cheer, yet films such as these illustrate why the spirit of Christmas touches the hearts of many and calls on people to remember the true meaning of the season. As Dr. Seuss once wrote in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.” This year, while re-inventing celebrations with their loved ones, families can gather around to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on PBS or Apple TV+ and see Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and his friends once again celebrate the holidays and consider the question, “What is Christmas truly about?”
Looking to the future, students anticipate the day when they can be surrounded by family and friends, or stand in the middle of Times Square in New York City and cheer as the ball drops on New Years’ Eve, or join in the nervous excitement of racing through a Macy’s Department store in hopes of finding the right red fire engine for their little brother’s Christmas present. Students at Santa Catalina look forward to the day when they can once again pack the pews of seats in the Chapel during Candlelight Mass and spread tinsel everywhere in Study Hall during the week of festivities leading up to Christmas break. Until then, perhaps students can follow the lead of Ebenezer Scrooge. The final ghost to visit Scrooge in Disney’s 2004 version of A Christmas Carol (2009) is the ghost of “yet to come,” who signifies the end of Scrooge’s journey and shows Scrooge how his behavior can impact his future. From this experience, Scrooge changes the course of his present life and develops a new perspective on the holiday season. Moving forward, Scrooge focused on spreading the light of hope.
Charlie Brown struggled to join the holiday festivities at the beginning of one fateful December; but, by the end of his journey, he gained a deeper understanding of what Christmas is all about: not the gifts under the tree, or even the state of the tree itself, but rather who joins you around that tree to sing loudly for all to hear. When examining his Christmas tree, Charlie Brown states, “It’s not bad at all really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” Perhaps, this year, everyone just needs a little extra love and hope for Christmas.