There's no better example of community spirit than a small-town Christmas Parade. Taking you back to the time before commercially built floats dominated, you see bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, boats, trucks, dogs and more dogs, horses, elected officials riding in convertibles, police and sheriff cars and volunteer fire department vehicles, with full sirens and horns blasting.
At the Oriental parade there were the traditional dance schools, a Tae Kwon Do demonstration, a Djembe drum circle from the Methodist Church, a character in a Scottish kilt driving a John Deere Tractor and the Arapahoe Sudan Mourners, consisting of a horse-drawn hearse, walked the route in New Orleans funeral style. One of the mourners cried out his mother-in-law was in the hearse. And there was candy...lots and lots of candy - except for the Grinch, who was threw out Broccoli florets and baby carrots. Of course, Santa came ho-ho-hoing at the end.
Perhaps the largest unit was a flatbed trailer sponsored by Lt. Governor Mark Robinson. Both the county Republican and Democratic parties had floats also, but Robinson's was especially large. Oy Vey! Can't we even get away from partisan politics at a Christmas parade? Still, there was a the overall feeling of goodwill.
Monday was baking day for us, when we pull out recipes collected from family and friends and enjoy listening to Christmas music. What are your favorite baked goods? We love a recipe from my mother she called ice box cookies, because you chill the dough before slicing and baking. We also baked the traditional snicker doodles, some sausage balls and a special recipe a friend gave us that we call fruit cake cookies.
Monday night we volunteered to help the Salvation Army at their Angel Tree site. The mall wasn't nearly so busy as in previous years, but a good crowd and shoppers had packages. Many of those packages were for the Angel boys and girls they had adopted from the tree.
One man walked up with two bags filled with clothes and toys. As I thanked him, he said, "This is what it's all about. That's what God wants us to do...spread joy and love to others."
He reminded me of when our Rotary club had agreed to ring the bells at the kettle in front of the old Hudson Belk store in downtown Raleigh. It was a cold, windy December day when my turn arrived and, even in a heavy topcoat and gloves, I was cold. But I forgot about my comfort when a woman came up to the kettle.
As she rummaged around her pocketbook, I noticed she wore what is best described as a threadbare fabric coat. She pulled out a 5-dollar bill and put it in the kettle, saying out loud, "Now it can begin."
I said, "Sounds like there's a story here."
she said. "Four years ago, my trailer caught fire about a week before Christmas. It burned up all our clothes, our furniture and all the Christmas presents I had bought for my children. I didn't know what I was going to do,"
she said. "But you know what? The Salvation Army came and gave us all clothes. They gave me some furniture and they gave me toys for my children for Christmas. I made myself a promise that I would never again buy the first Christmas present until I gave money to the Salvation Army."
I get emotional every time I tell this story. Her 5-dollar donation was as big as if she had dropped a hundred-dollar bill into the kettle. She wanted to be part of giving to others.
If you are having trouble getting into the spirit of the season find a way to help others. Most organizations would welcome your monetary donation, but if you really want to know the joy of giving, physically give of yourself. Churches, food pantries, soup kitchens or other nonprofits always need volunteers to help.
Your help is needed now, more than ever. Americans are not volunteering as much today. The Census Bureau and AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service, recently released a report showing that between September 2020 and September 2021 the number of volunteers dropped about 7 percentage points. A little more than 23 percent of us formally volunteered with an organization, the lowest percentage since they started tracking in the early 2000s. Agencies report that number continues to decline.
We have always been a nation willing to help others. From our beginnings, if a neighbor's barn caught fire everyone gathered to help build a new one. If we knew a neighbor was having a hard time or was sick, we would make food or do chores for them. Why do so many no longer feel the need to help?
If you really want to get into the Christmas spirit, give yourself. The blessing to you is two-fold. You help others and, in so doing, feel better about yourself.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.