Our family came to Gowanda from Minneapolis, Minn., in 1933, when I was just six years old. Times were hard, and my father had gotten work at the building of the new mental hospital in Gowanda, which has evolved to now be two state prisons. In those days parents could not afford to smother their children with toys at Christmas as they often do today.
I recall at age 5 in Minneapolis my brother and I each got a flashlight for Christmas. We went into the closet where it was dark with our flashlights and the funny papers from the paper, and holding the light behind each panel we made like it was movies. I recall in Gowanda at age seven we each got a mouth organ and a pair of overalls. We lived in the country and we walked down the road in the snow wearing our new overalls and playing our harmonicas. It was a beautiful morning.
In Gowanda the town square is more accurately the town pentagon. It is a meeting of five roads that enter or leave the town in five different directions. At Christmas time they would erect a huge Christmas tree in the center of that intersection. On Christmas Eve Santa would come in his sleigh and greet each child who would sit on his lap and ask for what they dreamed of getting. The square would be filled with the populace and they would joyously sing Christmas Carols while awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. What sweet innocent days they were.
Out of encouraged respect for our parents, when the five of us kids in the family reached the age where we understood Santa, we started the tradition of sitting by the tree and opening our presents one at a time on Christmas Eve.
I recall years later when my kids were rushing out to see what Santa had brought, I set myself up in an out of the way corner and took pictures of eager cherubs running to find their loot. It is good to have Christmas associated with giving and receiving. It is also good to remember what the season is truly all about. I don't think we actually know just what date Jesus was born, but I seem to remember that in setting Dec. 25, they picked a day right after the winter solstice when the light is coming back into the world. It seems an appropriate time.
Today we seem to be in an age of live and let live, in an unlimited extreme where nothing really matters except does it feel good. Only party poopers talk about such boring things as principles, because principles invariably are limiting. Anyone who hasn't noticed that principles govern everything, everywhere, is just not observant. Anyone who doesn't believe that all humans need guidance and principles beyond themselves to live an orderly, productive life, have much to learn. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that they can learn it anywhere except from their own experience.
Christmas is a season of everything we have learned from the leader of Christianity, Jesus Christ: Good will to our fellow man, with respect for ourselves, renewed faith in our God, and as it says in I Corinthians 13:13 "And now abideth faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
Richard Westlund is a Collins resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org