Jim Bishop: The ‘Hollowdaze’-some waiting required

Long ago, in a universe far, far away, a little country boy gazed longingly across the way to his neighbor’s unpretentious abode.

It was late October. Most foliage on stately backyard trees had largely lost their grip on their summertime sanctuary – except for the willow tree leaves that had turned a sickly yellow but held on for dear life. Twilight was stealing across suburban Fountainville, Pa., a giant fruitcake’s throw north of Doylestown, as temperatures dropped, a reminder that autumn would soon give way to winter.

Halloween was near, one of his favorite “holidays,” after the Fourth of July and of course, birthdays. (How that has since changed!).

But, the object of his obsession had not yet given any indication that the brightest and best day of the year, Christmas, was around the corner.

A close neighbor, Eddie Histand, had not yet strung up his outdoor Christmas lights, but it would happen before too long. He was always the first, and back then, only person in the neighborhood to throw the switch to a multi-colored display starting Thanksgiving night. This waiting period for yours truly was excruciating.

Likewise, during childhood years in my hometown of Doylestown, I couldn’t wait for the Christmas lights in town to come on for the first time. But, back in times of antiquity, one waited until about the second week of December before long strings of colored lights with a giant neon star in the center cast a celestial glow over the downtown area.

Meanwhile, there were other important events on the corporate agenda, like preparing for and celebrating Thanksgiving. It meant the Bishop family would pile into the ’57 Chevy and motor south to Glenside for feasting and rich fellowship. This was a taste of Big City life for me, although still suburbia.

As the calendar turned over to the last month of the year, more signs of Christmas came to light in my hometown – especially Foster’s Toy Store where kids reigned supreme and we Bishop siblings scoured the aisles, drooling over pre-computer chip gadgets and other merchandise, knowing that many of the alluring items would never make our wish lists.

Doc Brenneman’s pond froze to the point that we ice skated and played hockey before Christmas – imagine that! – with little thought given to the possibility of ending up in the icy brink.

Closer to the Big Day, our church youth group would pile into the back of a tractor-pulled hay wagon and do four-part acapella Christmas caroling on a frigid night around the community, then warm up with hot chocolate, maybe with donuts, afterward.

The times they kept a-changin’, and the sweet buy and buy came ever more to the fore. In various settings and forums, I quietly protested the trend to starting one’s Christmas shopping in air-conditioned comfort around Labor Day. Now, area radio stations serve up Christmas fare in the air 24-hours-a-day before Thanksgiving, the same seasonal songs repeated ad nauseum, while memorable melodies from my youth are rarely heard.

Autumn leaves have scarcely begun to drop when catalogs and circulars proclaiming glad tidings of great savings cram our mailboxes. Some retail stores open their doors at 3 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. I feel sorry for employees who have to work such hours as much as I lament the fierce competition and consumer frenzy that seems to necessitate this move in the first place.

And now, the confession: In the spirit of my childhood neighbor, the young, expectant lad who is now a senior citizen placed electric candles in our windows several days before Thanksgiving. The best part: each one worked. A modest outdoor display, however, must wait awhile to be pulled out of storage.

More than ever, I savor this season of Advent and the spirit of waiting, of anticipation – while being more aware that for many this time of year is incredibly stressful for a host of reasons – even while watching expectantly for the bright and shining Star that will light our way in the darkness.

Now that is worth the wait.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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