Thursday, December 10, 2020

Little Gladys Ain't No Peggin


There was a chill in the air electrified with the anticipation of the impending visit from Santa.  Little Gladys sat in the portable building that served as her classroom anxiously awaiting the announcement of Christmas festivities to come.  Twenty-eight third graders shifted and squirmed eyes glued to Mrs. Carter, their teacher.

Mrs. Carter stood at the front of the class, fluffed her bouffant hair, smoothed her tan wool skirt, cleared her throat and began “Class, unfortunately this year we will not be allowed to have a Christmas tree in our rooms.” 

There was a collective exhalation from the eight-year-olds of disappointment.  Mrs. Carter motioned for them to quiet.  “You see we have some students who do not celebrate the holiday with a tree, just as they don’t celebrate birthdays or any other holidays.  Since we are a public school, we must respect their beliefs and because of such we will not have decorations or a tree.  We will, however, still be having our annual pageant, absent of course of the nativity and/or any reference to the baby Jesus.  Now before we all get beside ourselves, let’s remember that this country was founded on religious freedoms.”  She looked with sadness at the deflation of her students and returned to her desk.

The students exchanged suspicious looks, side-eyeing one another in an attempt to ferret out the guilty heretic.  Girls and boys squirmed at the interrogative stares. 

Little Gladys raised her hand, jumping a little in her seat in order to be seen.  That was a problem with Gladys, she never felt seen.  Maybe it was her diminutive size, or maybe it was her being the third child and always being out talked, outweighed and overlooked or maybe it was just her personality.  It was this feeling that made her act a little more dramatically, talk a little louder and ask questions incessantly.  

“Mrs. Carter!   MRS. CARTER!!” she all but screamed, “Why?  Why can’t we have a tree?”


Mrs. Carter sighed “I already answered this Gladys.  Some of our student’s religious beliefs do not allow them to celebrate the holidays. We must respect that.”

“But, why?  I mean is it because they don’t believe in the baby Jesus?” Gladys whined.

“No, dear, it is because they believe that those holidays are in fact not Christian but pagan.  Do you know what a pagan is?” Mrs. Carter waited.

Gladys thought a minute and said “isn’t that like a clothespin.  When you want to hang something up you put in a peggin and you hang your stuff on it?”

A little giggle escaped from the seasoned teacher “No, Hun, Paganism is a form a belief where in they worship many gods or unconventional gods.  It was very common back in olden times.”

“You mean we gots peggins in our class?  Who?” Gladys was aghast.

“No, we would be the Pagans by putting up a tree.  You see some people believe that the tree was a Pagan practice as were many of the other holiday traditions we practice.” The teacher gingerly walked around the subject trying not to be too accusatory.

“I aint no peggin!” Gladys spat.  The class all mumbled the same. 

“No one is calling you a Pagan.  Now let’s get to work on our fractions and forget about the tree.”

The day went on but not as brightly as it should have.  The anticipation dampened with the thoughts of no green and red construction paper chains, no pipe cleaner angels, and no glitter spewing cardboard ornaments.  It was a sad, sad day and no amount of free reading time was going to lift Gladys’ spirits.

As the last bell of the day rang out Gladys trudged forlornly out of the classroom, only looking up to see Mrs. Carter’s sympathetic eyes.

That evening as the color faded from the horizon Gladys sat at the dinner table and told her brother and sister of the criminal restriction from having a Christmas tree.  “She said we were peggins for having a Christmas tree.  Well, Mrs. Carter don’t exactly think we are but she said some kids in our class thought we were and that is why we can’t have a tree.”

Buck, Gladys’ brother was confused “we are peggin?  What is peggin?”

“You know we believe there is more than one God and we don’t worship the baby Jesus” said Gladys matter-of-factly. 

“PAY-GAN!” Buck corrected, “you mean pagan.  Not pegging.  I thought maybe you were playing mumbly-peg at school or something.  I still don’t understand how a Christmas tree means your Pagan.”

“Well, Mrs. Carter said has something to do with the peasants worshiping trees or some such magical nonsense.  I think it is a travesty, us not having a tree.  I am just glad that Momma and Daddy don’t think it’s piggin.”

Matilda examined her mashed potatoes on the fork took a big bite then turned mouth open to show Gladys her food. 

“Stop it!  I don’t want to play see food with you.  This here is criminal!  I mean how would you feel if you didn’t get to have a tree?”

Swallowing Matilda replied “we don’t get to have a tree.  We got the same speech.  Mr. Decker said that it was because of some Jeehosaphats or something.  That they don’t believe in Christmas Trees.  But he said we could still decorate the room and bring ornaments from home.” 

“What are Jeehosaphats?  What do they look like?” Gladys said taking a second helping of black-eyed peas. 

Trooper Bob looked across the table at his progeny, shook his head and continued eating.  This was one conversation he would let them work out themselves. 

“Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Jehoshaphat.  It is a religion.  They are really strict.  Even stricter than the snake handling Baptist over off of Treadaway.  They don’t celebrate birthdays, or Easter, or Christmas, or Halloween or anything because they see them as pagan celebrations” Buck responded.

Gladys’ fork stopped midway to her mouth.  What kind of monsters didn’t celebrate birthdays?  I mean did those poor souls not ever get any presents?  Setting her fork back on the plate she turned to Trooper Bob “is that true Daddy? They don’t celebrate their birthdays nor nothing?”

Trooper Bob saw he was not going to escape this conversation.  “Yes, that is true.  They don’t celebrate.  Now I don’t know a lot about them but I heard tell that they don’t believe in any celebration but I think they do recognize Easter.”

“Well, that just ain’t right.  They should at least let their kids have a tree and some presents.  What harm would it be?” Gladys was flummoxed.

Dinner finished and dishes done, it was time for Gladys to go to bed.  She prayed that night for those poor Jehoshaphat children who wouldn’t have Christmas or birthdays, Easter or Thanksgiving.  Heck, I think I would rather believe in carrying around rattlesnakes as I had go without holidays.  She closed her eyes as hard and tight as she could and she had a little conversation with God. 

The week went forward and not another word was said about the absence of a Christmas tree and the Jehoshaphat children who caused this atrocity.  Well, not a word from the adults.  The playground was a buzz with who was and wasn’t a Jehoshaphat.   There were several theories that the Jehoshaphats weren’t even in their class, heck, for all they knew not even in the school.  Some thought it was a way that the teachers and parents didn’t have to clean up the glitter, popcorn, and crepe paper mess of the season.  Whatever it was it wasn’t right.  Nope, not right at all.

Sunday rolled around.  Gladys dressed in her best clothes and waited while Matilda dressed and made sure her hair and make-up were absolutely perfect.  Buck yelled at them both to hurry.  The three kids climbed into Bucks V.W. Bug and made their way to Sunday School.

Gladys about to burst rushed into her classroom and all but fell into Miss Delores’ arms.  “Ms. Delores, you ain’t  gonna believe this but we can’t have a Christmas Tree.  The teacher says it ain’t fittin.  It is peggin.”

Miss Delores wiped Gladys tears and smiled “I would love to help, but I have no idea what you are going on about.  Slow down and tell me, what’s this about pegs?”

Gladys relayed her tale, leaving out not a single detail as her classmates listened.  Finally, out of breath and out of details she asked “what do we do?  I prayed.  I prayed really hard for them Jehoshaphat and them not getting presents.” 

“Gladys, you have done all you can for those children.  They have their beliefs and we have ours.  You can pray for them, be kind for them and respect them, that is what you can do.”

The following Monday the first bell rang and Mrs. Carter’s third-grade class filed into the cafetorium along with the other 3rd grade classes.  The smell of cinnamon rolls and fried chicken wafted from the kitchen and the cafeteria ladies scurried in and out of the doors preparing for the lunch rush.  On the stage sat a distinguished man and the school’s principal.  Once the students were settled in Mr. Taylor, the principal, addressed the students.  “Boys and girls, there has been a lot of speculation and talk about our decision not to have Christmas trees this year.  I know your teachers have done their best to explain the concerns of some of the parents not wishing their children to participate in this tradition.  I have asked Doctor Bartholomew to help give some insight into the true meaning of the Christmas Tree to Christians.” 

“Good Morning Boys and Girls” the distinguished man started “I am the chancellor at the Christian College.  Last week one of your teachers called me because she was concerned that the display of a Christmas tree was being misunderstood.  She said some children were afraid if they had a Christmas Tree it would mean they weren’t being good Christians.  Well, let me tell you, that is not the case.  I came here today to share with you the Christian meaning of the Christmas Tree.  First, let me say that many religions have used the Fir tree as a symbol of life.  Now with that being said, I would like to share with you the representation of the tree.

You see the green of the fir tree represents God’s gift to us of everlasting life in his love.

The red ornaments and bows on the tree represent the blood that God’s son shed so that we might have everlasting life.

The lights on the tree are God’s love that lights the way.

The Angel on the top of the tree is the Holy Spirit which is always within our hearts.

The presents under the tree our greatest Gift Jesus Who gave Himself to us at Christmas.

The holly bush represents immortality, a trait that God has given to each human being. We are all destined to live forever, either with the Lord or separated from Him.

Christmas bells symbolize the joy of Christmas.

The candy cane is shaped like a shepherd's crook, reminding us that Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

You see children, Christmas Trees embody all things Christian.  I have talked to local leaders and educators and they have decided that you may keep your classroom trees as long as you remember the spirit of that tree.  Thank you for your time and Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.”

Gladys and her compatriots exited the warm cinnamon roll scented room returning happily to their classrooms.

When the last student was seated Mrs. Carter once again addressed her students.  “We will have a tree this year and it has been agreed by the Board of Education and our PTA that those students not comfortable with decorating the tree can have free time in the library.  Just see me before lunch and I will arrange a hall pass for you.”

·         Gladys swelled with happiness.  She loved making ornaments and decorating the tree even if her reindeer looked more like trees than deer.  She loved sprinkling the glitter over the Elmer’s glue and shaking the excess off into a newspaper.  She loved bending the pipe cleaners into almost angel shapes and of course, no tree was complete without the paper chains and strings of popcorn.  Mrs. Carter had green and red popcorn.  The class spent the afternoon, creating and decorating and singing Christmas Carols.  As she looked around the room, she noticed not one single solitary classmate was missing.  Doug was eating glue off his fingers; Robin was covered from head to toe in glitter and Lisa was twirling around with a paper chain wrapped around her neck like a boa.  It was glorious.  All was right with the world.  That evening she went home with her hair full of glitter and her hand-out which explained the Christian Christmas.