We all knew Christmas was more than Santa in our one-room schoolhouse

Gloria Hafemeister
Gloria Hafemeister visits with Santa at Schuster’s Department Store in downtown Milwaukee in 1949.  Hafemeister says she knew him as “the real Santa” and thought the others in their  small town were Santa’s helpers.

Our grandchildren attending the local parochial school are planning a Christmas Eve program that I hope we will be able to go to this year. Last year we had to watch it on the computer at home. It just wasn’t the same.

It’s always so much fun to see the excitement of these little kids as they stand up in front of their parents and grandparents and others in the congregation. 

Seeing these kids tell the Christmas story reminds me of the happy experiences in my own childhood. It seems like only yesterday my mother was putting together stiffly starched white angel wings for my costume for the school skit. 

I was the only one in first grade but everyone in our one-room Pleasant Knoll School had a part in the play. If a fourth grader could memorize better than an eighth grader, he was cast for the lead and the big kids filled in the minor parts.

Those without a part in the play who showed more musical talent than acting ability entertained between acts.

At Christmas our routine class schedule was almost abandoned to practice for the program, the biggest community event of the year. The whole neighborhood showed up to see the Christmas pageant, even those who had no family in the school.

The old faded curtain was brought out each year and hung on a rope strung across the front of the school room and lots of time was spent singing Christmas carols.

Now you might think it was odd that this school I described was so small. You might also think I grew up in the boondocks somewhere but actually the school is now a home and the district is practically in a suburb of Milwaukee now.

What might seem even more unusual today is that it was a public school and no one would have considered objecting to putting on a Christmas program with a religious theme. It wasn’t a holiday program. It was a Christmas program.

The school program was never meant to take the place of church services. That wasn’t the purpose. It was just a little program put on to acknowledge that, while we came from different religious affiliations, we all knew Christmas is more than Santa.

As we sang “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night” and all our favorite carols. We knew their meaning and anyone who would have suggested we couldn’t sing such songs in a public school building would have probably been thrown out on the snowbank by the wood shed to cool off.