God only knows how many holiday bazaars we’ve had at the Oak Bluffs School. Something tells me the first one took place after a few white settlers loaded up a wagon and rode west out of the original encampment in Great Harbour — sometime in the 1620s — after seeing a tendency in these new Edgartown folk to wear brick red trousers and to pipe dream about building yacht clubs: Oak Bluffs ho! they yelled to their horses.
So the three hundred and seventy-eighth holiday bazaar took place at the O.B. School last Saturday. Each year the faces change with the rota of K-8 kids and parents seeing their youngsters through these precious, fleeting seasons, but some things stay the same: the piped-in Christmas melodies, tables of crafts, coffee and candy, raffle tickets for the eighth grade trip peddled by fresh-faced and impossible-to-refuse pre-teens, and some poor schmuck persuaded to climb into an ill-fitting Santa suit.
People selling stuff reported that business was slow, but no one sounded remotely surprised by this (maybe Congress should pass a bail-out for school Christmas bazaars). But here’s a modest proposal for the current holiday season, and perhaps all future holiday seasons: An economic crisis such as this Big Boy we’re going through is ushering in all kinds of lifestyle changes, some of them welcome, and perhaps at this opportune time we can invent a new Christmas in which we jettison the gifts. (I know, I know, Island retailers are going to throw marked-down rotten tomatoes at me, but hear me out).
There’s something pathological about a holiday that demands a person buy presents for every family member, all close friends, business associates, and the friendly UPS guy who twice this year has blown out a tire coming down your winding, godforsaken dirt road. Even if you’ve got a bank account that would enable Donald Trump to buy a daily Rolex, it’s unnatural to feel forced to accumulate so many gifts in so short a period, all of them needing to be purchased, wrapped and distributed by a sharply defined deadline – no extensions here; try palming off a Christmas gift on January 4th and you’ll need to back that up with a darn good excuse.
What if we invented a new tradition for giving gifts so that our purchasing doesn’t actually diminish (okay, retailers, you can put back those marked-down tomatoes), but instead gets dispersed throughout the year? For the sake of easy figuring, how about if we gave presents to loved ones not only on their birthdays but on their half-birthdays? (A certain son of mine, who shall remain nameless, celebrates not only his actual birthday, but the birthday some five months later on his fake ID acquired during his college years).
Then picture the New Christmas going forward: All the things we truly love will endure: The scent of nutmeg, allspice and pine boughs, twinkling lights, sleigh bells, hot cider, yummy party food, Bing Crosby singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and, yes, some poor schmuck tricked into a Santa suit. Whether you’re attending midnight Mass or lighting a Menorah or a winter solstice bonfire, the holiday doesn’t need to yield up any of its spiritual charms.
So to anyone reading this column, I’m crossing you off my Christmas list, but be sure to let me know when your half-birthday rolls around!
Forget everything I just wrote as you peruse the following announcements, since all them involve the holiday spirit of giving:
Last week students at the Oak Bluffs School kicked off their yearly fund-raising for the Red Stocking Fund which is estimated to help over 300 children and their families. Also, and this is nothing short of awesome, these O.B. kids raised $889.84 for UNICEF!
Don’t forget a great event taking place daily at Featherstone For The Arts up until Dec. 19 — from noon to 4 p.m. the works of 56 artists are on display, all affordably priced in the $5 to $25 range.
Another great way to combine gift giving with community support is to stop in at the O.B. Library and purchase one or more of their splendid Savor the Moment Calendars, with scenic scenes taken by both amateur and professional Island photographers. They’re $15 apiece and profits go to library programs.
Also, while you join the Library Friends of Oak Bluffs at their annual Holiday Open House on Thursday, Dec. 18, from 2 to 5 p.m. — for cookie decorating with children’s Librarian Jessica Bowers, holiday music, a visit from Santa and kids’ grab bags (while they last) — head over to the food table for dishes from their brand new cookbook, Tastes of Cottage City from Near and Far. There are over 250 recipes from year-round and summer residents, with 20 pages of Ethnic Recipes from Our Island. Also, the cookbook and handy tote bags will be on sale, for that last-minute gift. All proceeds and donations benefit the library’s year round children’s programs. Admission, activities and refreshments are free.