Christmases of my childhood were magical times and few things were more magical than the Christmas program, a time when kids sang badly to great applause and sometimes raucous laugher. The climax was the end of the program when we each received a candy bag.
Danny Brown took up residence in the desk behind me one year and in early December. His father, who some claimed was a real live atheist, forbad him from taking part in the program. So each Friday when we practiced, Danny sat in the balcony of our church. I pitied him. He would miss Sunday night’s performance. And, worse, the sacred candy bags. Miss Thomas, our choir director, was a large woman. Her arms weighed more than two of me and she got quite a workout directing us. Her arms danced and bobbed and we loved her for it. One practice, as we rose to sing I eased a thorny clipping of holly onto Beth Freeman’s chair and when we sat down, she lived to rise again. “OW OW OW!” She howled. “Go to the balcony…NOW!” Miss Thomas ordered me.
Danny was waiting there. As the children sang about angels and shepherds, I told Danny another version my mother had washed my mouth out with soap for using: “While shepherds washed their socks by night all seated on the ground / the angel of the Lord came down and passed the soap around.” A volcanic laugh built within him. Miss Thomas glared at us and brought her arms to a wobbly halt. “I’ve had about enough!” she yelled. That’s when I sinned greatly and said to Danny, “Then quit eating fudge.” We hooted and howled. I knew there would be no Christmas program for a child as foolish as I. But by Sunday night, no one had informed me otherwise. The church was electric with squealing children and frantic parents and Roy Butler was there with two Chiquita Banana boxes bursting with candy bags.
Danny Brown was there. Making faces at me from the balcony. I think Beth Freeman had even forgiven me. She recited from the gospel of Luke chapter two “And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’” Afterwards an amazing thing happened. Never in all my years do I recall seeing an extra candy bag, for Mr. Butler was meticulous. But this year there was. And that night Danny Brown left the church with his very own candy bag. It was a genuine Christmas miracle. Before he left, Danny smiled and slapped me between the shoulder blades, “Now we’re on yonder star,” he said.
It was Danny Brown’s very first Christmas.
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