by Jonathan Gramling
As we get deeper into this COVID-19 thing — and we are the backside going downhill to an almost normal life
again — I appreciate the things that I used to do out in the real world. There were some of them that I liked to
do and some that I didn’t. Now what I would give to be able to do the things that I even didn’t like to do. On
some levels, it will be like doing them all over again for the first time.
Even more than normal — due to staying busy and going from one task immediately into the next — I am
hardly aware that Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah and other winter holidays are just around the corner. Heck, in
a little over a week, we will be beyond the shortest day of the year and on our way to the warm days of
But this year, because of the pandemic, it seems that there are few things going on in my life to remind me of and prepare me for the
holiday season. In November, we would always have the Madison Metropolitan Links’ Community Service Awards event to go to. It has
always been a special moment as The Links honored some very fine community activists who give, give, and give some more to the
community. And all of the proceeds would go towards The Link’s scholarship program the next spring. It always seemed like a family
reunion, seeing people I hadn’t seen for a while and taking photos of just about everyone in the room because they were looking so sharp
and looked genuinely happy to be there. Oh, how I miss my Links sisters.
Dr. Floyd Rose and 100 Black Men would always host a Christmas event to collect toys for Tots for Kids. People would show up with a
toy and socialize and then representatives from the U.S. Marines would come by and accept the toys on behalf of the program. Moments
of kindness like these are sorely missed.
Out at Lussier Community Education Center — and I am sure many other centers — Soul Santa would make an appearance to give out
gifts that had been donated by community members while the West Madison Optimist Club Christmas Party was going on. And except for
the occasional scared or shy toddler, the kids loved getting their photo taken with Soul Santa. Again it just filled the heart with warmth to
see the outpouring of kindness and consideration.
I was truly feeling a void on the first Saturday of December because the Wisconsin Women of Color’s Holiday Scholarship Fundraiser
wasn’t happening for the first time in memory. Mother Agnes Cammer would lead the holiday cheer as women-owned enterprises lined the
walls of the room and then some selling all kinds of Christmas-quality presents. Many of the WWOCN members would do all of their
shopping right there. And then there was the silent auction whose proceeds funded WWOCN’s scholarship program. I’ve been a member
of WWOCN for the past 12 years and I fully felt a part of the festivities. As everyone gets up there in age, I pray that God will keep them
safe until next year’s celebration.
On occasion I would got to the Philippine Americans of Madison and Neighboring Areas, PAMANA, Christmas event. Those were always
awesome celebrations attended by several generations. There was food and camaraderie as everyone was in the holiday spirit. And Santa
would always come with presents for the abundant little children there.
And by this time, I would begin to receive notices about Centro Hispano’s Desayuno Con Los Tres Reyes Magos, which they always
celebrated on the Saturday morning closest to January 6th, the day that the three wise men came to visit Baby Jesus. Tres Reyes Magos is
celebrated in Latin America, supplanting Christmas as the time when children would receive their gifts. It would seem like hundreds of
children and their parents came from everywhere to Centro Hispano to do face painting, do some arts and crafts, get a little something to
eat and then sit with the three wise men to have their photo taken. For many years, Baltazar, the African wise man, was played by the late
Ken Haynes who so relished the role. Tears come to my eyes just thinking about the joy that Ken would bring, someone who didn’t let the
world ever destroy the child within him.
And of course there was my own family’s Christmas celebration. It would start on the morning of December 24th when we would open
presents that had been wrapped what seemed to be only a few hours before. And then relatively recently, my son Andrew and I would
make dozens and dozens of cookies — about 30 dozen in all — for the Christmas gifts that we would be providing. It always took us about
6-7 hours of solid work with me rushing to the grocery store to buy ingredients we were short on and had an overabundance of others.
And we would hurriedly rush to my Brother Tim’s house in Brookfield for an extended family Christmas celebration that involved gift
giving, a lot of cheer and countless hands of the card game Sheepshead until the wee hours of the morning.
Andrew and I would stay with my brother Jim and his significant other Linda and we would have a brunch with Linda’s sister and her
family and a good friend of my Brother Jim’s. It was a wonderful time of laughter and gift giving. And then Andrew and I came back to
Madison to recuperate on Christmas night and then I would get started on the next issue of The Hues.
All of those holiday markers will be absent from my life this year, for the most part. Christmas and other holiday celebrations are meant to
be experienced up close and personal and I will truly miss that.
But in spite of all of that. It is my wish that each and every one of you are visited by the Spirit of Christmas and that a genuine sense of
peace and hope pervades your very essence. We have gotten through this together and we shall meet again. Happy Holidays!