Since as far back as my memory will allow me to venture, there’ve been few places that can make me feel the exhilaration of Christmas quite like Hamilton does. Whether it was the Christmas displays in Elder-Beerman’s windows, the dazzling lights throughout the downtown streets, or the Santa Parade that kicks off the yuletide season...Hamilton always seems to come alive with the Christmas spirit year after year.
In my experience though, there’s two places in Hamilton, that decade after decade, offer a mix of timeless holiday cheer, family tradition, and memories that will last a lifetime.
Since the 1970’s The Santa House, or the Ho-Ho House as it was once called, has been a welcome sight for children throughout Butler County. That quaint little house that magically shows up in early December, never seems to lose its charm. As a little girl I remember the joy of stepping up to Santa’s House, opening the door, and feeling immersed in a warmth that always left me feeling joyful.
Standing in line with my parents, holding their hands tightly, I’d watch those before me with rapt attention. As I’d stand observing the kids before me, I’d wonder what they were asking Santa for, while also silently praying they’d put a little pep in their step. The last thing I wanted was to forget the list I’d mentally prepared in my head. It never mattered though how slow or how fast the line moved. Because as soon as Santa would call for me to step forward…I’d draw a blank, forgetting every single thing I’d planned to tell him. I couldn’t help it though! Standing in his presence was a truly wondrous experience. As a kid, the atmosphere and the undeniable sense of magic that those moments held were nothing short of intoxicating. As I stood there stunned, all I could do was nod my head “yes” or “no” when he’d present me with gift ideas, smile for the pictures being taken and then shake myself from the festive fog that had overtaken me just long enough to graciously take a candy cane from Mrs. Clause. Looking back though, no matter how my visit with Santa went, the feeling I got from stepping into his bubble and being a part of his holiday magic, that was the gift. Not only did it stoke the fires of hope within me as a kid, but the memories I made with my parents, and then eventually with my own kids, are truly special to me. You can’t put a price tag on that. I don’t even remember most of the gifts I received year after year. Gifts that felt so important at the time. But I do remember how special it was to feel like, if even for just a moment, I was able to touch a bit of the magic Christmas holds by visiting that special little house.
Santa’s House wasn’t the only place that made me feel the joy of Christmas though. As odd as it may seem, the other place I loved going with my family…was a funeral home. Starting back in 1935, Mr. Paul Young started to foster a craft that would grow to become an over 70-year tradition. A tradition that has meant so much to not only my family, but families throughout several counties. When I was a little girl, it always struck me as a bit funny that we went to a funeral home on Christmas Eve. As I got older though I began to see just how poetic it actually was. At Christmas there’s so much emphasis put on the birth of Christ, and rightfully so. But when you step back and you really look at why He was born, which was to die…to have the Nativity be so beautifully portrayed at a place that’s typically associated with death, is strikingly significant.
One particular aspect of the Nativity that's always stayed with me…is the donkey. I remember from a young age my dad pointing out the cross on the donkey’s back. Telling me how after carrying Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and then seeing Jesus carrying His cross just a week later, the donkey longed to help Jesus. Unable to, and filled with grief, he turned his eyes away from the crucifixion before him. God saw the donkey’s love for Jesus though and placed the shadow of Jesus’ cross on his back. Now, even today, when we look at a donkey, we’re reminded of the devotion he had to Jesus in both the good times, and the bad.
I have so many beautiful memories at both Santa’s House and the Paul R. Young Nativity. But when I look back, I’m mostly struck by one thing. It was never the “things” that made Christmas special. It was all the memories I made with my family. From holding their hands in line to see Santa, to feeling their arms around me as we prayed together as a family in front of the nativity scene. Those are the things that make me smile. Those are the memories I hope I can always remember and forever feel deep in my soul.
So, this Christmas, I hope the only thing that overwhelms you is joy, that you make memories that will last a lifetime, and more than anything, I hope you always remember that the most priceless things aren't things at all, but rather the people who make your life special.
Merry Christmas Hamilton!