While I have a great appreciation for shopping at malls, I always get nostalgic for the downtown atmosphere at Christmas time. I lived in the small city where I was born and raised for several years before I started on my career path.
A tradition was to walk into the downtown on Christmas Eve because everybody was out and about -- whether it was last-minute shopping or just seeing who else was on the streets.
In addition to later hours for the shops, restaurants also kept their doors open for those folks milling about on the streets, chatting with people they would encounter, checking out the decorations adorning the city-owned properties, as well as those glistening through the windows of the stores. It felt magical -- even as I got older.
And there was the sound of the bell ringing beckoning shoppers to support the efforts of The Salvation Army. Church and civic groups were among the volunteers ringing the bell. Let’s not forget my hometown is one of those where everybody knows everybody.
Once I started working at the daily newspaper, who I was became more commonly known, but that was all right. My parents and sister had already made names for themselves through their contributions and successes in the community.
As I type, I’m smiling thinking about those Christmas Eves so many years ago, and the delight on the children’s faces when Santa Claus was available to take their wish lists in the town square. There was an energy, an excitement in the air as I would stroll down the streets absorbing the moment.
I lived about four blocks from the heart of the downtown. It was an enjoyable walk, with neighbors on porches (the cold temperature didn’t matter) talking about their Christmas Day plans and if they needed to do any more shopping.
I’ll admit there were a few Christmas Eves when I was one of those near-panicking types needing another gift or two. Yes, it always worked out -- despite some frenzied moments.
Since making Hanover County my home, I regret never having visited here when Downtown Richmond was alive with the Legendary Santa and stores decorated extravagantly to invite in shoppers. My sister and brother-in-law settled here in 1976, so I had opportunities, but I was way too involved in my life. (Yes, it was all about me at the time. Who didn’t go through that?!)
I do enjoy the stories I’ve heard about Downtown Richmond and the wonderland it became during the Christmas holidays. If memory serves me, a tradition for my sister and brother-in-law was attending the performance of The Nativity Pageant at the Carillon in Byrd Park.
Whenever the family gathered for Christmas in Richmond, the pageant was a must-see. OK, I’ll admit it -- this Grinch never did see it (again, it was an all about me world for a long time). Mom thoroughly loved it though.
I do have many regrets about the Richmond that I did not get to experience before deciding to make this area my home. My sister Robin loved the city and all it had to offer, and Christmas was certainly a high point for her and Michael.
As the big day approaches, I’ll travel down memory lane to the Christmases of the past, when all of the family was together and the spirit of the season (as in Jesus’ birth) was and is still celebrated.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. ... And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” -- Luke 2-11